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Bay Area residents already beleaguered by the coronavirus pandemic are still facing wildfires that continue to erupt around the region. The heavy smoke from the fires continues to endanger the health of residents.

Mary Kay Groth, president of the Silicon Valley Association of REALTORS® (SILVAR), called on residents to take steps to protect themselves from the wildfire smoke. “Our hearts go out to our brave firefighters and the victims of the fires across the state. Breathing the unhealthy air from the fires is dangerous, especially for children whose lungs are still developing, and for those who have heart or lung diseases or asthma and other high health risks.”

SILVAR shares the following tips from various agencies, including the Center for Disease Control and Protection and the Environmental Protection Agency, to protect families from wildfire smoke.

Pay attention to air quality alerts. Stay informed by visiting http://www.sparetheair.org. Sign up for Spare the Air Text Alerts on the website.

Stay indoors with windows and doors closed. Now is not the time to do outdoor activities, like mowing, trimming bushes, or running and other strenuous activities.

Protect yourself from smoke. If you need to be outside, use a N95 mask or greater that fits snugly on your face. N95 masks are precious protective equipment for frontliners treating coronavirus patients, so to conserve their use, please heed advice to stay indoors.

Run the air conditioner. Keep your air conditioner’s fresh air intake closed and make sure your air filter is clean. If you do not have an air conditioner and it is too warm to stay inside with the windows closed, seek shelter elsewhere.

Do not add to indoor or outdoor air pollution. Do not burn candles or use gas or propane. Do not fry or broil meat, smoke tobacco products, or vacuum. It is illegal to use fireplaces, woodstoves, outdoor fire pits or any other wood-burning devices during a Spare the Air Alert.

Reduce smoke in your vehicle. When on the road,close your car windows and vents. Run the air conditioner in recirculate mode.

Conserve on energy. To prevent service interruptions, reduce your energy usage, including use of major appliances during peak hours of 3-10 p.m. Keep air conditioning at 78 F degrees and turn off all unnecessary lights.


September is recognized as REALTOR® Safety Month and National Preparedness Month. In light of the wildfires that continue to burn and disrupt the lives of many individuals and families, it is a good time to stress preparedness in case you need to evacuate your home, says Mary Kay Groth, president of the Silicon Valley Association of REALTORS® (SILVAR).  

“Although evacuation warnings and orders have been lifted in Santa Clara County, we need to be vigilant and have a plan and know what to take and what to do in case we need to evacuate our home,” says Groth.

SILVAR shares the following evacuation tips from ready.gov, the official website of the Department of Homeland Security, and HouseLogic.com, a source of information for homeowners, homebuyers and sellers from the National Association of REALTORS®.

Make a Plan

  • Assign an out of state contact whom you will contact to let them know where you are going.
  • Decide on where to meet as a family in case you get separated.
  • Always have your gas tank full or half full in case you must evacuate right away.
  • In case the power shuts off, have a battery-operated radio and keep a charged battery pack for your cell phone, so you will not be cut off from the news and can contact people.
  • Sign up for free text alerts from your county.
  • Learn how to safely shut off all utilities in your home.
  • Prepare a checklist of what to take and what to do.

What to Take

  • Your driver’s license, proof of insurance, medical records and other important documents, including passports and Social Security cards
  • A grab-and-go bag with essential supplies, such as water, food, medication, and first-aid supplies, pet food, including face coverings and hand sanitizer to protect you from coronavirus
  • Cash in small bills, as the ATM machines may not be working

What to Do Before You Leave

  • Lock all the doors and windows in your home.
  • Unplug electrical equipment and small appliances. Leave freezers and refrigerators plugged in unless there is a risk of flooding. If you are instructed to do so, shut off water, gas and electricity.
  • Wear sturdy shoes and protective clothing.
  • Gather your pets and load them in the car.

“Having a plan and a checklist of what to do and take will keep you calm if the worst-case scenario happens and you must evacuate your home,” says Groth.

According to the National Association of REALTORS® 2020 Member Profile, the typical REALTOR® has not changed much since the NAR 2019 survey. REALTORS® continue to come from a variety of demographic groups and career backgrounds. They represent the various age, ethnic, and language that define their local communities. They are more tech savvy today, using their smartphone and computer on a daily basis and online tools to communicate with clients.

The typical REALTOR® is a 55-year-old, college-educated White female, and a homeowner. Sixty-four percent of all REALTORS® are women. For 73 percent, real estate is their only occupation. Also largely unchanged from the previous year, 69 percent are married, 16 percent are divorced, and 10 percent are single or never married.

Eighty percent of REALTORS® are White, while 10 percent are Hispanic/Latino, 6 percent Black, and 5 percent Asian/Pacific Islanders. Eighty-two percent are fluent only in English. Respondents under 50 years old were most likely to be fluent in another language, with Spanish being the most common second language. Thirteen percent said they were born outside of the U.S.

Already before the coronavirus pandemic, REALTORS® had begun to adapt technology to advance their business. Among the 12,464 members who responded to the survey, more than nine in 10 members use a smartphone and a computer daily, while just about all members regularly email clients. Text messaging is the preferred means of communication for REALTORS® (94%), followed by email (91%) and telephone calls (89%). Seventy percent of members said they have a website for business use. Majority use social media apps to communicate with clients. REALTORS® were typically most active on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

“The survey was conducted prior to the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent nationwide stay-at-home orders. REALTORS® are very innovative, and if the same survey is conducted today, it would show an even higher percentage of REALTORS® utilizing tech tools, and they have done so successfully from the start of a transaction to completion,” said Mary Kay Groth, president of the Silicon Valley Association of REALTORS®.

On average, members have nine years of experience in the industry. Seventeen percent have more than 25 years of experience. Sixty-five percent of respondents have sales agent licenses, 22 percent hold broker licenses, and 15 percent have their broker associate license. Seventy-three percent of members indicated they specialize in residential brokerage.

“People tend to use the terms REALTOR® and real estate agent interchangeably, but they are not the same. Although both are licensed to sell real estate, a REALTOR® is a member of the National Association of REALTORS® and pledges to follow the Code of Ethics, which contains 17 articles and standards of practice that are higher than regular business practices or those required by law,” said Groth.

Groth added, “REALTORS® must abide by a Code of Ethics, which is diligently enforced by our peers through the Grievance and Professional Standards process. As such, a REALTOR® is held to an even higher standard of conduct than other real estate licensees. Only REALTORS® can use the REALTOR® trademark by their name.”

Silicon Valley home sales bounced back in June, as lockdown restrictions eased, bringing sellers and buyers back to the marketplace. The San Francisco Bay Area saw a moderate 3.6 percent increase in home prices and a 69.2 percent sales increase from May. Santa Clara County made a major comeback in sales volume, price, and new listings.

“The housing market is making a good recovery which will hopefully continue,” said Mary Kay Groth, president of the Silicon Valley Association of REALTORS®. “The pandemic hasn’t stopped buyers.”

Santa Clara County saw June packed with a higher sales volume and strong prices, according to data from MLSListings presented in the Aculist Monthly Market Minute report by Aculist senior product marketing manager Michelle Ronco. Ronco noted the change in sales volume illustrates the market’s recovery. Santa Clara County sales volume in May was barely half (49 percent) of the sales volume in May 2019, then rose steadily in April to 62 percent. By June, sales volume increased to about 98 percent of sales volume in June 2019.

Santa Clara County’s median home price reached $1,382,000 in June, up 1.2 percent from May’s median of $1,365,000, and up 2.4 percent from the June 2019 median of $1,350,000. Although inventory is down 33 percent year-over year, new listings have increased for two straight months, from 732 in April, to 1,045 in May, and 1,066 in June – a clear sign that sellers are returning to the market. The county’s sales-to-list price ratio in June was 101 percent, just one percent lower than a year ago.

Further highlighting the market’s rebound are places that experienced month-over-month increased median home prices. These include cities in the local REALTOR® association’s service area, like Saratoga, Los Gatos, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Cupertino, Santa Clara, Palo Alto, Sunnyvale, Mountain View. The cities of Los Altos Hills, Mountain View, Sunnyvale, Los Gatos, Cupertino, Saratoga, Santa Clara, San Jose also saw new listings increase from May to June.

Ronco added average days on market dropped in June – in some cases by nearly half of the previous month. In hot markets, like Cupertino, the average DOM fell from 22 days in May to 12 in June, Monte Sereno, from 75 days to 44; and Sunnyvale, 27 days to 18. This means buyers have less time to decided on a purchase due to heightened competition.

“The virtual tours and virtual open houses have appealed to buyers. Traditional open houses are still not allowed, but in-person showings by appointment and limited to just three persons at one time, including the agent, have helped clinch many deals,” said Groth. “At our association’s REALTOR® district virtual meetings, our members are reporting multiple offers are taking place on properties that are priced competitively.”

June is National Homeownership Month, a time to recognize the value of homeownership. Owning a home is more than an address. When you invest in homeownership: you build financial stability, gain the freedom to create a home that fits your lifestyle, and play a role in strengthening your community.

Since Americans have been forced to shelter in their place of residence due to the coronavirus pandemic, the home has come out on top. Families are discovering their home and improvements they can make. Homeownership has mattered even more to prospective buyers.

“The home is now not just a place to live, but also a place to work,” said Mary Kay Groth, president of the Silicon Valley Association of REALTORS® (SILVAR) and a REALTOR® with Sereno Group. “With more companies allowing their employees to work remotely, surveys show a growing trend in buyer preferences to expand their home search farther from the city to places with more open space and for larger homes with a dedicated space for a home office.”

The social benefits of homeownership are many. Homeowners move far less frequently than renters, making it easier to build community networks and support systems. This results in a higher membership in voluntary organizations, greater social interaction in their communities, better school performance by children living in owned homes, a higher rate of high school graduation and higher earning, and better physical, psychological and emotional health outcomes.

The pandemic has caused a drop in home sales, but it has not brought transactions to an absolute halt. In fact, market activity has grown in the past month as REALTORS® embrace technology to help their clients achieve their dream of homeownership. Since traditional open houses are banned, SILVAR REALTORS® like Mary Jo McCarthy are holding open houses virtually.

McCarthy, a REALTOR® with Golden Gate Sotheby’s International Realty, recently told SILVAR members, “It’s the path that we’re in, so I felt I have to learn it. I’m in the weeds right now and just figuring out how to navigate, but it shows my clients that I’m moving ahead with technology.”

In-person showings are allowed now, but with only three persons – two from the same household and the agent. Health and safety restrictions must be followed. Mitra Lahidji, a REALTOR® with Compass, described the process. “We kept a 6-foot distance from each other, we had face masks and gloves. I gave booties to my clients, two persons only, and then wiped the areas we touched.”

“We are so fortunate technology has allowed us to be in touch ‘face to face’ with our clients,” said Groth. “For now, the best value we can give our clients is to know our marketplace so every buyer who wants to achieve their dream of homeownership can, and to also be a voice of calm and assurance when they are feeling overwhelmed with all that is happening around us.”

The National Association of REALTORS® is celebrating the new era of homeownership and recognizing the people, policies, and programs that are #CreatingHome now and into the future. Visit https://homeownershipmatters.realtor/homeownership-month-2020/ for homeowner stories and expert advice.

There is a bright spot to the coronavirus pandemic, and that is the rise in adoption and foster applications in animal rescue and shelter facilities. In fact, some shelters have happily announced they are empty, while others like the Silicon Valley Humane Society, have announced due to overwhelming adoption demand, they have temporarily paused their adoption appointment sign-up for dogs and are only taking adoption appointments for those interested in meeting cats, rabbits, and pocket pets and even these appointments are filling up quickly.

“In this unprecedented time of shelter-in-place and social distancing, many individuals and families long for a little companionship,” said Mary Kay Groth, president of the Silicon Valley Association of REALTORS®. “If you were planning to adopt a pet before the coronavirus pandemic, now could be a great time to take that step. More time at home means more time to bond with your new pet and work with them on training.”

According to the National Association of REALTORS® “2020 Animal House: Pets in the Home Buying and Selling Process” report, 66 percent of U.S. households currently have a pet or plan to get one in the future, proving that pets and their effects on a home, must be considered for a majority of households. Additionally, 43 percent of households would be willing to move to better accommodate their pet(s), demonstrating that this is a priority among consumers. A small percentage, one percent, of recent homebuyers said they were prompted to make their purchase by the desire for a better home for their pet(s). When searching for a new home, 18 percent of recent homebuyers said it was very important that their new neighborhood is convenient to a vet and/or outdoor space for their pet(s).

Within the past year, a median of 38 percent of REALTORS®’ clients have owned a pet, companion animal, or service animal; and 18 percent of REALTORS® have represented clients that have moved solely for their animal. When finding a home for their clients, the most important feature for REALTORS®’ clients in terms of their animals’ situation is a fenced yard. This was followed by a large enough home for the household and pet, and flooring.

Pets also come into play when REALTORS® work with sellers. The most common pet-related advice REALTORS® give their seller clients is take the animal(s) out of the home during showings and replace anything damaged by the pet(s). Eighty percent of Realtors recommend that their clients remove pets during showings when selling their home.

Groth cautions families not to adopt a pet just because they are home during the coronavirus pandemic. “The pandemic and our shelter-in-place orders won’t last forever,” said Groth. “Before you adopt a pet, consider how much time you will have to care for a dog, now and post-pandemic, is your job secure enough to afford pet-related expenses, does your current place of residence have space for a pet or, if you’re renting, does your landlord allow pets? Will you have the time and energy to commit to training your dog? These are important questions to consider.”

Every year in the month of April, REALTORS® observe the anniversary of the passage of the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and use the time to educate consumers about housing discrimination and segregation, and to recommit to expanding equal access to housing. April this year has turned out to be different due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but NAR reminds members Fair Housing Month can be celebrated at home. Education, reflection, and discussion are meaningful efforts members can still undertake while practicing social distancing.

To mark the event, NAR is sharing curated lists of books, videos, podcasts and other resources for members to educate themselves throughout the month. NAR urges members to use this time to read, watch, listen, think, discuss and strengthen their fair housing knowledge and leadership with these tools.

As stewards of the right to own, use and transfer private property, REALTORS® reconfirm their commitment to upholding fair housing law and offering equal professional service to all in their search for real property. “Even amid the coronavirus pandemic, REALTORS® are using virtual tools to help homebuyers search for a home so they can achieve their dream of homeownership,” said Mary Kay Groth, president of the Silicon Valley Association of REALTORS® (SILVAR).

At the federal level, NAR is advocating for a federal minimum standard for remote online notary. NAR also worked on further tax extensions for 1031 like-kind exchanges and opportunity zones, and wants to make sure the much-needed forbearance measures do not unintentionally lock up the mortgage marketplace.

As a designated U.S. Census Bureau national partner for the 2020 Census, NAR is urging its 1.4 million REALTORS® nationwide to help drive Census participation in their respective communities. The good news is over 70 million households have responded to date, representing over 48 percent of all households in America (52% in California), using the Census Bureau’s new online option.

Roughly $1.5 trillion is allocated to states and localities annually based off census results to fund roads, public transportation, hospitals, schools and other infrastructure. More specifically, this year’s results will influence the allocation of $93.5 billion to Federal Direct Student Loans, $19.3 billion to Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers and $12 billion to the National School Lunch Program.

Census data is also used to draw district lines to determine appropriate Congressional representation for the next decade. California is one of 10 states likely to lose a congressional seat since more people left California than moved in over the course of a year. If California loses a seat in Congress, the state’s number of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives will drop from 53 to 52 and it could cost the state billions of dollars in federal funds.

Groth urges those who have not to please respond to the Census. “If you are unable to respond online, a paper questionnaire can be mailed to you by calling toll free 1-844-330-2020. I assure you the Census Bureau will never ask for bank account or social security numbers, donations, or anything on behalf of a political party. Strict federal law protects the confidentiality of Census responses.”

Dear fellow REALTORS® and SILVAR members,

As I write this from my home office, I realize some of what I say could be old news by the time this is published, but I will press on.

As you know, Real Estate has been deemed an essential business during the COVID-19 crisis.  The reaction to this has been mixed. Initially, REALTORS® felt this was a good thing, but it has caused confusion since we live in an area that is under the stricter rules mandated by the various County Health Departments.

The California Association of REALTORS® has been criticized for putting out conflicting information and guidelines, but it has been very clear, as has SILVAR, that our local rules are different, and we must adhere to them. No Open Houses … residential viewings must only occur virtually or, if a virtual viewing is not feasible, by appointment with no more than two visitors at a time residing within the same household or living unit and one individual showing the unit. In person visits are not allowed when the occupant is still residing in the residence.

Doesn’t that seem extreme, you say. Let’s consider what the ordinance says: The intent of this Order is to ensure that the maximum number of people shelter in their places of residence to the maximum extent feasible to slow the spread of COVID-19 and mitigate the impact on delivery of critical healthcare services to those in need.

When assessing if what your are doing for you and/or your clients, the above isn’t just a guideline; it is the law. Yes, transactions are being closed, movers are still moving (based on guidelines that allow this), but it is our responsibility as REALTORS® to be an example of following our Code of Ethics Preamble for “the preservation of a healthful environment.”

Since COVID-19 and its impact on us, I think it’s safe to say we all agree on many things – this is unchartered territory, we miss our colleagues and face-to-face interaction, we have a heightened level of anxiety for the future. We can adapt to new situations quicker than we may have though – we can spend more time with family, we can appreciate the beauty of where we live, and there are many other things we can add to the list. 

Like many, if not all of you, virtual meetings have become the norm. For me, today was another example of seeing friendly faces on my computer screen that I would normally be sitting in a room with and having a discussion that resulted in the same outcome – discussion, review, discussion and eventually a decision. As efficient as that may have been, I missed being together. That has been the reality for many over the past several weeks. And it will continue until our Shelter in Place order is lifted.

When we have come out on the other side of this crisis, there are many thoughts we will have in hindsight. One that I heard recently is the question, “Did I do enough?” If we keep that in perspective, we can’t help but make this crisis and adversity a time to grow. Be safe, stay healthy and keep pressing on.

Mary Kay Groth
2020 Silicon Valley Association of REALTORS® (SILVAR) President

The coronavirus is directly impacting families in the Bay Area as state and county have ordered residents to stay home, except those who must provide essential services. Silicon Valley Association of REALTORS® (SILVAR) President Mary Kay Groth offers these tips for families and Realtors coping with the new normal in their lives.

Don’t panic
“Although the news is distressing, we should do our best not to panic,” says Groth. “We should stay informed with the latest news and be smart about taking precautions to prevent the virus from coming into our home and infecting our family.”

The Stay in Place directive is a good thing, says Groth. “It definitely means pausing our daily activities, but it is the right thing to do. Social distancing is one of the best tools to minimize exposure to and spread of the virus.”

Stay connected
Families can still connect with friends and relatives. “Staying home does not mean cutting ties with everyone. Thankfully, technology allows us to connect in many different ways. In addition to phone calls, text messages, emails, connect through FaceTime, Zoom, Messenger and other apps,” suggests Groth.

With schools closed, Groth encourages parents to talk to their children about the COVID-19 virus. “Young children may not understand what is happening. Parents need to assure them that all will be well and that staying home keeps them safe while doctors fight the virus,” says Groth. “We need to look at the situation positively, as an experience that can bring you and your children closer together.”

Additionally, multi-generation families should try to maintain as much distance as possible in order to keep safe. Designate a special room for older family members, especially grandparents, if you can, so they’ll have their own space, where they can feel safe and comfortable.

Maintain good hygiene habits
Even if you are home, continue to wash your hands and sanitize all points of contact, like counters, tables and doorknobs. Health care providers stress the most important thing you can do is wash your hands thoroughly for at least for 20 seconds.

Do home maintenance work
Take care of home maintenance tasks you have put off, like replace a light bulb, fix a leaky faucet, clean the garage, file papers, or trim bushes and plants.

Exercise
If you get cabin fever, walk around your neighborhood, but keep your distance from others by staying six feet away from other individuals.

REALTORS® can still work
Even if client-facing activities are at a pause now, work need not stop for REALTORS®, says Groth. “REALTORS® can organize their data base and stay in touch with their clients by email, text messages and phone calls. Check in with your older clients, see how they are doing. Many would welcome a friendly phone call from you.”

Groth urges REALTORS® to continue learning. “Check MLSListings’ on-demand videos and webinar classes. This is also a good time to take the California Association of REALTORS® 45-hour online continuing education courses for license renewal, which is a free member benefit.”

“The market was solid before this outbreak, we will get through this and families will be stronger after we weather this crisis together,” said Groth.

Real estate experts forecast despite lower interest rates, this year’s housing market will continue to be a challenge with the housing shortage. Mary Kay Groth, 2020 president of the Silicon Valley of REALTORS®, tells buyers they should not be discouraged. Groth is a REALTOR® with Sereno Group in Los Gatos, CA.

“Buyers should not give up their dream of homeownership. They need to be prepared, find an experienced REALTOR® they can trust, and be ready to jump in when they find the right home,” says Groth. “All real estate is local, so it is important to work with a REALTOR®who is familiar with your neighborhood of choice.”

Here are strategies Groth suggests homebuyers employ:

1. Examine your finances.
Before beginning your home search, examine your monthly income, expenses, debt payments (auto loans, student loans, minimum credit card payments) and savings. Figure out how much you can use for a down payment. Depending on the loan you qualify for, you’ll need at least 3 to 20 percent for a down payment.

2. Check your credit score. A higher credit score typically means a better interest rate and loan options. According to the Federal Reserve, 90 percent of mortgages taken out by homebuyers in the first quarter of 2019 had a score of at least 650; 75 percent had a score above 700.

2. Get pre-approved by a lender.
Once you have organized your finances, visit a lender (it is advisable to visit more than one lender) and get pre-approved for a mortgage loan; not just pre-qualified.

“A pre-approval letter from a lender shows sellers you are a serious buyer and have the lender’s backing,” says Groth.

Groth advises buyers to be cautious about paying the maximum they can afford. “You will need some reserve to enhance the home, do repairs or purchase furnishings. You want to be comfortable with your house payments and be able to keep your house.”

3. Begin your home search. With pre-approval and a price range, you can begin your home search with your REALTOR®. Let your REALTOR®know your criteria for a home. Focus on important characteristics that will matter for the next five years – location, amenities, community, etc. With the help of a skilled and experienced REALTORS®, you will be able to learn the fair market value of homes selling in the area.

4. Be ready to decide quickly. When you find the right home, go in with your absolute best offer. “In a multiple offer situation, you may not get a second chance,” says Groth.

5. Avoid complex contingencies. Don’t be overly demanding. Contingencies can weaken a “sure deal.” The seller wants assurance the contract will close escrow in the designated time frame.

6. Include a personal letter to the seller. Groth notes, “A personal letter to a seller puts a real person behind the offer. There have been multiple offer situations where sellers have been moved by a buyer’s letter that price did not matter.”

7. Understand the documents. When your REALTOR® reviews the purchase contract, disclosures and other documents, make sure you understand. If you don’t understand, ask.

October 2020
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