Sunday, July 28, 2013

The National Association of RE Brokers.

I say it's time for the The National Association of Realtors (NAR) to change their name. They have really always been an association of real estate office owners, representing the Brokers not the Agents, (if you don't think so, just read their magazine, “Realtor”. But now that they have drifted off into data aggregation and sales, I say they should change their name to the National Association of Real Estate Listings.

NAR has been selling all the listings Realtors provide to their local MLS systems for years. Obviously this is a huge data file and a profit-center for the association. Generally listings held by Realtors account for about 80% of the home sales in the United States, and while that's an impressive number, it misses the other 20%. These listings include new homes under construction and for sale by home builders, used homes owned by banks and municipalities, rentals, FSBO's (for sale by owners who don't want to pay a commission) and so-called “pocket listings” known only to a few real estate agents, and offered quietly. This week NAR has approved changes to its operating agreement that allow to publish listings from sources beyond those provided by their Realtor members. In other words, will attempt to offer “all the listings.”

Consumers have long been able to access more than just the MLS through a host of real estate resources anytime, anywhere, from their desktops or their smart phones, whether it’s information about a specific house or inventory level in their community. These varied sources of information often cause confusion as consumers come across data that’s incomplete, contradictory, outdated, or flat-out wrong. They may lead buyers and sellers to erroneous conclusions about a home’s value, the prevalence of distressed sales, or frankly what's even for sale in a given area.

I have had a rash of calls over the last month from consumers who have discovered a listing—one which I sold 3 years ago to an investor, and then listed for rent. It was rented almost immediately and the tenant is still there and happy with the property, but somehow the listing has reappeared as currently for sale in some web site—I know not which--and so my phone rings.

Maybe this is a function of “scraping,” in which unscrupulous computer programmers write code that extracts information from Realtor web sites. The problem with scraping goes beyond the unsanctioned taking of content. It creates mountains of online real estate info that’s obsolete and inaccurate. Even legitimate sites can end up with imprecise information.

The problem of “bad data” includes these cyber errors, as well as scammers who pick up a real listing and then run it elsewhere (think Craig's List) as being for rent by owner. These guys claim to be out of state property owners, they will mail you a lease and with your deposit in hand they will send you the keys. (Remember since they don't own the property, you really shouldn't expect the keys to arrive right away.)
Zillow, the well known real estate site has acknowledged issues caused by their “Zestimates,” which generally give consumers unrealistic ideas of property values. Zillow says they try to come up with credible data, but say their software cannot consistently determine the exact worth of properties in all situations and settings.

Internet real estate listing sites rely on data that usually comes from real estate agents (though sometimes by way of an MLS or syndicator). Almost all of the data Realtors put into their MLS sites is then “borrowed or sold” to third-party national websites. Changes to a listing made after the initial listing appear immediately in the MLS, whereas there is always a delay before these changes make it into the third-party sites—if it ever does.

Over the years, the NAR has invested millions of dollars in building information technology to give consumers online access to real estate information. With the new decision to be a data aggregator, NAR is looking toward the future and not at their members—even though these changes to may have a substantial impact on NAR’s members.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Can You Afford that House?

When my wife and I bought our first house, I was pretty sure I could handle the mortgage and the associated costs—which we generally call PITI (Principle, Interest, Taxes and Insurance) but I was blind-sided by the extras that I had not considered.

A home is a constantly evolving asset. There will always be costs associated with ownership, and normally when you least expect them. Just like everything else in life, surprise car and home repairs, unexpected medical expenses come when you absolutely don't expect them.
The day we moved into our first home, we suddenly needed curtains. And we needed extension cords, and bedroom shades and once we had been there for a few months, we needed storm windows, and a new hot water heater. Of course we needed a deck, and a new roof on the garage. Really, it never ends. So now when I talk to first time home buyers, I try to share that their offering price is not the last time you will decide how much you want to spend.
There are a ton of smaller costs that make up home ownership. Call them hidden costs, call them extras. They are there in every part of your life. A new dress may demand new shoes. A new car may require more expensive insurance and could include a whole list of accessories the dealer will offer. Buy a boat? Prepare to buy a trailer hitch for the car and a trailer for the boat. Our economic system is based on extras.

If you want a beautifully manicured lawn and trimmed hedges. Think about the maintenance and cost that look requires. Never had a yard before? Get ready to hire a yard service or buy a mower, edger, hedge trimmers, gardening tools, plant food, weed killer. No matter what, you’ll be spending more at your local garden center than you thought.

And don't underestimate the costs of furniture. Decorating a new home is expensive, even if you do it at Goodwill or a consignment store. And even if you already have enough furniture to technically fill your space, at some point you will probably decide it just doesn't look quite right. If you’re not in a hurry to buy furniture, remember to check Ebay and Craigslist to find great deals that will match your style. And remember, even when you are saving money, it's because you are spending money on the new digs.

The basic cost of living can vary widely from location to location. There are magazines that create grids which indicate the additional cost of moving from suburbs to cities. Often these costs are ongoing, like food. So be sure to check out prices at grocery stores, local restaurants, gas stations, and dry cleaners. Even your daily commuter costs can add up to a big chunk of change. States like New Hampshire have no sales tax and no income tax—that's a bonus. But a hidden cost is the very high property taxes in the “Live Free or Die” state.

Moving to the new home may be fun for the family, but there are the moving costs to consider. It’s not just the cost of the moving truck or movers themselves. Consider things like moving insurance, the price of gas, and charges for things that you choose to do yourself. Cardboard boxes, paper, tape and blankets can add up.

Your first week or so may include lots of restaurant food. Once you've found the pots and pans there’s still the price of buying that first round of groceries to fill your completely empty fridge and pantry, plus paper products and more. And then you have to buy things like curtains and cleaning supplies, shower curtains, and other home necessities. The expenses in the first couple weeks of your new place add up fast.

New homes never have bugs, right? But then again, you may be surprised to see ants and other tiny creatures seeking comfort in your home. You may find yourself spraying the corners occasionally, and maybe even paying for a pest control service. Paying for regular inspections may feel like unnecessary money to spend, but if you’re in a termite-prone location, it may save you big bucks over time.

Turn off the lights all you want, but until you’ve lived in a house for all four seasons, you won’t know how much energy you’ll use. You may find your refrigerator is sucking up your electricity budget or you're suddenly paying hundreds of extra dollars a month for air conditioning or to operate a balky pool motor. Then add in the unbelievable costs of telephone, internet and cable, plus municipal charges for water, garbage, sewer, and the rest.
Only after you’ve been in the house for a year, will you have a solid idea of what that house costs, and only then can you make educated decisions on investing in things like more energy efficient appliances, HVAC, solar panels, thermostats and windows. Do the math to see what those upgrades will save over time, because although they may cost a lot upfront, when amortized over a few years, they may be worth it. And there are still some Federal savings for upgrading air conditioning or adding solar.
Dane Hahn is a real estate professional. You can reach him at 941-681-0312, or by email at See him on the web at

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Detroit Goes Down the Drain

The governor of Michigan appeared on the Sunday news shows with his comments on the proposed bankruptcy of Detroit. I knew the city was a mess—but I never dreamed they had $18,000,000,000 in debt and 78,000 abandoned structures throughout the city. This is a city that today has only 700,000 residents—but once had 2 million.

Today's story goes back 60 years, when Detroit was the job center for manual labor. 60 years ago life in the United States was quite different than it is today. Back in the early 1950's the baby boom was on, the soldiers were home from WWII, and were starting families. America was THE powerhouse in the world. Thousands of suburbs were springing up, there were not enough houses for all the families that the war had created. And the new houses came with 2-car garages. Young families went for Sunday drives. Gas was cheap. I remember being on a Sunday drive with my parents and we came to an intersection where there were four gas stations, one on each corner, these stations were in a gas-war. Their prices were 11 cents a gallon, I'd say that was probably 1952.

Detroit was the only city in the world that was building cars. Really. The US had recently decimated Japan and Germany in WWII, and bombed their factories to eliminate their ability to build much of anything. All the world's other countries were basically third world nations when it came to building cars. Germany managed to develop the VW, but compared to American cars, it was tiny and slow and who cared about gas economy when gas was so cheap. My dad used to say, “if you were going to be in an accident, would you rather be in a VW or a big strong American car?” It made sense.

And so Detroit was the clear winner, that's where the jobs were. Especially if you were a recently discharged soldier looking for a good paying job—or if you were without a high school diploma, maybe a child of parents who were farmers, or a child of coal miners, or just without much in the way of job prospects near where you had grown up. The jobs were in Detroit, all the roads went there, and the unions wanted you to come on up and join both the company (and the union). And so the move to Michigan was on.

If you fast forward 30 years, (think the 1980's) there was trouble in paradise. Japan's Toyota and Honda were eating Detroit's lunch, Germany was churning out VW's, Mercedes and BMW's, and the world noticed that the European and Japanese cars were DEPENDABLE and didn't rattle like American cars. Older Americans (like my dad) thought that Consumer Reports Magazine was anti-American by picking Toyota as their car of the year back then.

And still, Detroit didn't really notice. The overall market for cars had gotten bigger, so who even noticed market-share, The planned obsolescence built into the American cars meant that they were on the road for only a half dozen years and then they were “retire” to a junkyard, and Detroit would sell a new one. And then the consumer's mindset began to mature, Volvo began advertising that 95% of the cars they had sold over the last 15 years were still on the road, and people listened. VW advertised that the “bug” made your garage seem bigger, and people paid attention.

But in Detroit, the music kept on playing. Jobs there paid 3 or 4 times as much as elsewhere, and came with health and life insurance and big retirement benefits. Life was good. If you needed more money, tell the shop steward you need some overtime, and you would consider working weekends and holidays. Meanwhile, Nero fiddled as Detroit burned. Market share was dwindling and the core business was in decay. Those who might have dealt with that issue just kicked the can down the road. Americans were blindsided by Corvettes and T-birds and Mustangs and mini-vans. But the workers weren't blindsided, they did what workers do, they kept going to work and demanding raises--even when there were fewer cars to build and less to do. After all, you may as well take what you can while the music was playing.

But this week the music stopped. The city filed for bankruptcy. 60 years after the boom, Detroit is busted. This will be a huge issue for holders of Detroit's municipal bonds and for the retirees who are living on a monthly check from the city, for them the future is cloudy. A true bankruptcy will freeze the city's books and review the sources of income the city actually can depend on (taxes, tolls, fees, sales of assets etc.) and based on that, the court will restructure who gets paid first, who gets paid next and so on, until all the money is spent. Probably current employees (police and fire, transit and maintenance) will get paid first, but their retirement plans will likely go underfunded. City infra-structure will be somewhere in the middle with a probable cut or buy-out of retirees benefits. My guess,  bondholders are probably going to be out of luck. This is a painful process, but it is the best way to start over, and it's time for Detroit possibly Los Angeles and maybe some other American cities to take this step.

So when we look around Sarasota and Charlotte counties and see some abandoned buildings, think for a minute about how good we have it. Detroit has 78,000 empty buildings. So many that the city, state and Federal government are considering creating a partnership to knock them down. 2/3 of the residents have left, and the city is $18 Billion in debt. I see lots of Michigan license plates around Englewood too, so I know this topic is closer to home than the map might indicate.

Dane Hahn is a real estate professional serving Sarasota and Charlotte counties. He can be reached at 941-681-0312 or by email at See him on the web at

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Condo Regulations--Florida

A couple of weeks ago I discussed the new changes to Florida's State regulations for HOAs (Home Owner Associations).  This column is the second part of the new changes and deals with the Florida regulations for Condo Associations. These changes to Florida Statutes are worth reading, and became effective on July 1st. 2013. 

Florida Statute 718.112(2)(c)3 allows for a Condo Association Board to hold closed meetings for the purposes of discussing matters that pertain to personnel, but an attorney must still be present when discussing any  pending litigation or in order for any other type of closed door meeting to be held.

Florida Statute 718.116(11) clarifies laws dealing with the directing of rents (from a tenant in a property) directly to the Association if the owner of the property is delinquent in their assessments. The new laws clarify that upon written notice from the Association, a tenant is responsible to make all subsequent rental payments to the Condo Association until all monetary obligations of the unit owner (that concern the unit the tenant is living in) have been paid in full.

Florida Statute 718.111(12) clarifies that “personnel records” are records that pertain to both the Association’s employees as well as the Association’s management company’s employees. It states that “personnel records” cannot be accessed by owners; however written agreements between and Association and their employees or management company, as well as financial and budgetary documents that show the compensation paid to an employee are available to owners.

The new law also provides that unless an owner consents in writing to release personal identifying information (such as email addresses, phone numbers and alternative home addresses) the owner’s email addresses and fax numbers may not be released or made available to other owners.

Florida Statute 718.112(2)(d) Provides that if a Board member’s term is set to expire at the annual meeting of the Condo Association , but there are no candidates, the Board member’s term will not expire.

If there are fewer candidates for Board positions than the number of Board positions expiring at the meeting, then all candidates shall become members of the Board, upon the close of the meeting.

If there are any Board positions that are not filled, an affirmative vote by a majority of the Board (even if there is just one person on the Board and no quorum) shall be used to fill the openings on the Board. A Board candidate must be eligible to serve on the Board. Florida Statute 720.306(9) now states that any owner who is more than 90 days delinquent in making payment of any assessment or fine, or has been convicted of a felony in Florida (with some exceptions as to having their civil rights restored) is not eligible to sit on the Board. It also allows for any actions by the Board in which a member of the Board is/was ineligible to sit on the Board, to still be valid, despite the ineligibility of a member.

Florida Statute 718.116(1)(b)2 states that when an Association takes title to a property through foreclosure (based on unpaid assessments), the Association is not liable for unpaid assessments, interest, late fees, costs, or attorney’s fees that were incurred by a Master Association (one that has a superior interest on the property) prior to the Association taking title.

Florida Statutes 718.303(3)‐(6) state that a Condominium Association Board can suspend the voting and use rights of a owner who is more than 90 days delinquent, but it must be done at a duly-noticed Board meeting, and the Board must set forth in writing the suspension and deliver it (by mail or by hand)14 days prior to a hearing relative to the implementation of suspension of use privileges, as well as fines for the any party’s failure to comply with the governing documents.

For the failure of any party to comply with the Association’s rules, regulations, and governing documents, the Condo Association can suspend the rights of an owner and/or his tenants as well as guests or invitees to use the common areas including pools or health clubs, and other facilities of the Association (but not roads or gates) for a “reasonable period of time”.

Florida does not appreciate Realtors practicing law (without a law license) so let me state the above is data from internet sources and is informational only. Specific questions relative to this column should be addressed to a lawyer. Dane Hahn is a real estate professional serving the Suncoast of Florida's Sarasota and Charlotte Counties.  He can be reached at or at 941-681-0312.  See him on the web at