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The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) is asking members of the Silicon Valley Association of REALTORS® and other members of the national trade association to tweet their Senators to support patent reform. This is NAR’s first ever Twitter Call for Action.

“Patent trolls” are companies that own a large quantity of patents. Often, they do not produce any goods. The business model is to just own patents and sue or threaten to sue anyone who potentially violates the patent. As small business owners, REALTORS® are exposed to these threats of litigation, often for using basic business technology, like drop-down website menus, mapping features, and online checkout carts.

Many small business owners who receive one of these threatening letters will settle the case because that is less expensive than going to court. A number of multiple listing services have been required to pay millions of dollars in licensing fees due to a patent troll suit. Patent trolls sue more non-tech companies than tech companies, and have cost the U.S. economy $80 billion in litigation costs in 2012.

If you are a REALTOR® go to Twitter Call for Action for complete details on connecting to your Senators on Twitter.

For more information about Patent Litigation Reform and why NAR supports this bill, please visit NAR’s Patent Reform Litigation Reform page.

Former Santa Clara County principal planner Don Weden told members of SILVAR’s Cupertino/Sunnyvale District this week that California is experiencing a number of structural changes and will be facing bigger challenges than in the past due to population growth, household changes, and an aging population.

The California Department of Finance projects Santa Clara County’s current population of 1.8 million will grow by 140,000 people in 15 years. As population grows, so will households, but their makeup will change.

“The future looks gray,” said Weden.

Currently in Santa Clara County, one in 10 persons is age 65 and older. By 2030, one in five persons or one-fourth of the adult population will be over 65.

Weden said development plans anchored on the drivable suburban model are no longer suitable. One in five Americans over 65 do not drive – because of rising gas prices, because they can’t, and some prefer not to.

“Neighborhoods we thought were fun to grow up in may be problematic to grow old in,” said Weden.

Weden indicated the rate of home ownership among the 25-34 year old group has dropped from 40 percent in 2007 to 31 percent in 2010. Millennials, the generation born between 1980 and 2000, now number 80 million, more than the baby boomers, and projected to soon comprise majority of the U.S. workforce. This generation has never known the world without the Internet. Weden said Millennials are the most educated generation in history, but also saddled with much student debt. They are mostly renters not only due to economic necessity, but because they want to be mobile, free to move from job to job without having to worry about selling their home every time they move.

“They are also less confident in the economics of the American dream,” said Weden.

Also important is this generation does not like driving. Eighty-eight percent want to live in an urban setting that is walkable. This is why it is critical for cities to focus on planning walkable urban neighborhoods instead of drivable suburban communities, said Weden. Baby boomers would also prefer it, especially once they can no longer drive.

Weden said the evolution from the predominantly drivable suburban neighborhoods to walkable urban neighborhoods is gradually taking place in Bay Area cities. He said REALTORS® need to get involved in planning these neighborhoods. The neighborhoods need not be exotic, but should be complete, offering residents of all ages an active lifestyle, with services and shops, including grocery stores and other amenities.

April 2014 marks the 46th anniversary of the passage of the 1968 landmark U.S. Fair Housing Act. Title VII of the Civil Right Act of 1968 strives to ensure equal housing opportunity for all and prohibits housing discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, and family status.

“Fair Housing Month is an opportunity to recommit to the principle that fair housing is an essential part of everything we do. REALTORS® play a vital role in ensuring fair housing for all and strive to make home ownership accessible to everyone,” says David Tonna, president of the Silicon Valley Association of REALTORS®.

Article 10 of the National Association of REALTORS® Code of Ethics provides that, “REALTORS® shall not deny equal professional services to any person for reasons of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity. REALTORS® shall not be parties to any plan or agreement to discriminate against a person or persons on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity. REALTORS®, in their real estate employment practices, shall not discriminate against any person or persons on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, national origin, sexual orientation, or gender identity.”

Home sellers, home seekers, and real estate professionals all have rights and responsibilities under the Fair Housing law:
• Home sellers or landlords are required under the law not to discriminate in the sale, rental and financing of property on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin. They cannot instruct the licensed broker or salesperson acting as their agent to convey for them any limitations in the sale or rental because the real estate professional is also bound by law not to discriminate. A home seller or landlord cannot establish discriminatory terms or conditions in the purchase or rental; deny that housing is available, or advertise that the property is available only to persons of a certain race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin.

• Home seekers have the right to expect that housing will be available to them without discrimination or other limitations based on race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin. This includes the right to expect housing in their price range made available to them without discrimination; equal professional service; the opportunity to consider a broad range of housing choices; no discriminatory limitations on communities or locations of housing; no discrimination in the financing, appraising, or insuring of housing; reasonable accommodations in rules, practices and procedures for persons with disabilities; non-discriminatory terms and conditions for the sale, rental, financing, or insuring of a dwelling; to be free from harassment or intimidation for exercising their fair housing rights.

• Agents in a real estate transaction are prohibited by law from discriminating on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, handicap, familial status, or national origin. A request from the home seller or landlord to act in a discriminatory manner in the sale, lease or rental cannot legally be fulfilled by the real estate professional.

Complaints alleging discrimination in housing may be filed with the nearest HUD office, or by contacting them at http://www.hud.gov.

The economy has made a remarkable comeback from the Great Recession, according to a California Association of REALTORS® (C.A.R.) real estate analyst. The nation’s GDP is at 2.4 percent, up from 1.9 percent in the beginning of 2013. Personal consumption, the biggest component of GDP, hinges on consumer confidence, which has also rebounded, with its index climbing to 82.3 in March, the highest reading since January 2008.

“Right now, the economy is charging along and moving forward. There is positive economic growth,” Sara Sutachan told members of the Silicon Valley Association of REALTORS® during her visit to the area last month. Sutachan is manager of Broker and Real Estate Finance Outreach for C.A.R.

It’s even better in the Bay Area, especially in the San Jose metro area, which has experienced a 3.4 percent job growth, adding 110,000 in the area. Silicon Valley is charting a stronger course compared to other parts of the state.

“You are in a world of your own and going gangbusters,” Sutachan told the REALTORS®.

Sutachan then gave REALTORS® a heads-up on what to expect this year.
* Interest rates have begun tapering off, so consumers should expect to see rates hover around the 5 percent range. This will place a damper on housing affordability for many buyers, especially first-time home buyers.

* Financial reforms stemming from the Dodd-Frank Act are reining in lenders to ensure that they make a good faith effort to verify a borrower’s ability to repay their mortgage. Stiff penalties are imposed if they do not. Mortgage applications are required to comply with the Qualified Mortgage (QM) rule, which includes full documentation of income, assets and employment, a maximum of 3 percent for points and fees, a cap of 43 percent on the back-end debt-to-income ratio, among other requirements.

* Talk of dissolving Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac threatens home ownership since these government-sponsored enterprises are the cornerstone of housing. The GSEs and Ginnie Mae (Government National Mortgage Association) are responsible for 90 percent of mortgage originations and 99 percent of mortgage securitizations.

* The proposed draft legislation on federal tax reform could significantly impact home ownership because it proposes to lower the cap on the mortgage interest deduction, place tighter requirements on the capital gains exclusion, repeal the deduction for property taxes paid in connection with an owner-occupied home, along with all other deductions for state and local income taxes.

Sutachan forecasts statewide home sales could decline about 3 percent this year. She expects the median price to rise about 8.2 percent from last year. She said sales have stalled due to tight inventory since there has been little new construction for the past five years; sellers are reluctant to put houses their house on the market because they don’t have anywhere to go; because of the high appreciation, investors are renting instead of flipping their properties; there are fewer distressed sales in the market; off-market listings are growing.

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