Andrew Wetzel's Musings

July 16, 2020

Delaware County Residential Property Reassessment 2020

On July 1, 2020, property owners in Delaware County PA were mailed letters advising them of their new “assessed values” to be used starting with the 2021 tax year.  This began the formal tax appeal process.  I have heard from many, especially on social media, concerned that their taxes may skyrocket given how much their “assessed value” had risen.  I empathize and ask people to remain calm.  There are additional steps to follow.

Taxation has ALWAYS been a point of contention for Americans going back to our founding.  However, I am finding that, with the combination of the pandemic, social protests, the economy and the upcoming election, some may not have been paying much attention as the reassessment process moved forward and they are now shocked as it starts to “get real”.  Reading both sides of the mailing should provide some comfort but many focus only on their assessed value and what it could mean.  Let me provide some background.  There is ample information available for anyone who wants to learn more and now is certainly the time to get engaged with the process.

Delaware County was last reassessed in 2002.  That was a major undertaking.  The current process seems easier because the information is more current and technology has improved.  There are over 203,000 parcels to assess so every property could not be visited.  Property owners have had two opportunities to appeal the new valuation.

The reassessment was court-ordered after two families filed lawsuits alleging that the system of determining assessments was not fair.  As a REALTOR I am very familiar with the complexity of trying to be uniform in determining assessments, especially across municipalities and with respect to new construction.  The judge ruled that assessments were so inconsistent that they violated the state constitution.  Property taxes are an “ad valorem” tax, meaning that they should be uniformly levied in proportion to property value.  The goal was to make the process more transparent by using “market value”, while specifically preventing a tax windfall to the County.  That is unlike what happened in Philadelphia and differs from what happened in the County in 2002.

Several steps were taken to determine a property’s value as of July 2019.  Owners were mailed initial paperwork to review to see if the County “knew” what they actually owned.  There was an “appeal” process if there was a disparity.  Now that the “final” values have been mailed there is a second, formal “appeal” process.   The last day to appeal is September 1 with all appeal hearings to be concluded no later than October 31 so that the new assessment rolls can be certified no later than November 15.  Only then can they can determine the millage and the actual taxes.

The “burden of proof” rests with the property owner to provide competent and credible evidence that their valuation is incorrect.  An appraisal is not required but can be very helpful as far as meeting the “burden of proof” standard necessary and an owner may wish to hire an attorney.  Absent an appeal, or if someone does not report for their hearing, the assessor’s value is presumed correct.   I have heard some say that they do not feel comfortable with the appeal process and I can appreciate that but that is how the system works.  Facts, not presentation skills, will determine the outcome.  If your value “appears” reasonable, you may decide to do nothing.  That is your choice.

The goal is to arrive at a County-wide assessment total.  Once that is established, the County will need to link that with their budget by determining the “millage”.  Only then will individual property owners have the opportunity to know their tax liability.  NOTE:  this article pertains only to residential properties.  While all parcels are part of the process, valuing non-residential properties follows different guidelines.

Two final points.  First, the new assessment is based on market value which explains why it “rose”.  The last assessment was based more on generalities such as square footage meaning that two similar properties could be assessed and taxed similarly even though one was “distressed”.  I have seen that in my Real Estate business.

Second, appeals are permitted every year based on an advertised schedule.  If a property owner misses an opportunity they will have another one but will risk overpaying until then.  I respectfully encourage everyone to remain patient, follow the deadlines and let the process play out.

There is no time for inexperience, empty promises or false expectations!

HIRE WISELY:  We are not all the same!

Selling Real Estate: Three Scenarios

Selling Real Estate in and of itself, as an “independent act”, can be interesting enough.  Contracts and paperwork aside, it has to be marketed/ exposed, identified as matching someone’s needs, visited, negotiated, inspected and eventually survive several steps proving that both parties can and want to complete the deed transfer.  Every one of these steps can be lengthy.

I have found that there are really three basic scenarios possible when someone wants to sell a property.  While similar at their core, the different scenarios each add their own dimension to the process and an agent and their client need to know the scenario and what makes them different.

The least complicated sale is one where a seller simply wants to sell a piece of Real Estate.  “Least complicated” does not always mean simple or easy.  The agent needs to know the seller’s motivation, is it a matter of time or money?  Do they want a quick sale or require a certain “return”?  Are their liens?  What is the condition?  What is the “fair market value”?  What is the local market like?  How easy is it to schedule showings?  Over time these may change and more questions may arise.  It takes an experienced, trained, educated and knowledgeable agent to properly advise their client as there is so much more to this than uploading the information to the MLS and Internet, installing a “For Sale” sign and waiting for a stampede of anxious buyers.  This is not a “retail transaction” and often gets more complicated once buyers and their agents start to express interest.  Experience will allow a professional to better prepare their seller-client for what the seller does not know might or will happen.

Many sellers need to sell to buy something else, even if not another piece of Real Estate.  The biggest difference here is that they “attach” a number to the sale that they think has to be met or the process does not make sense for them.  Even if they simply want to achieve a certain level of proceeds that changes the basic sale and may well end it before it starts.  If they want to buy another property that connects one evolving process to another and, at times, synching two evolving processes can become challenging.  For example, can a seller move into their next home when they need to or will they own two properties at the same time or will they need a place to stay for a short time?  Sometimes a sale happens without a seller knowing what happens next.  Sometimes they find their “next home” without having sold their present home.  While these situations often work out nicely, there are times where sellers who become buyers do not have any idea how juggling two evolving processes can possibly work out but history suggests that it does.  However, it requires more than luck.

Some sellers are looking to sell and buy but do not “need” to coordinate both  processes.  They can carry two properties and are willing to do that which makes both aspects easier to manage.  This does not mean that they are comfortable doing that or that their thinking won’t change later so a professional must ask enough detailed questions to avoid later surprises.

Not to minimize the time, effort and training required, it is relatively easy to get a listing contract signed and upload the information to the MLS and Internet.  Technology has made the marketing so much easier but we are paid more for what happens next and throughout the process, likely earning nothing if a property does not sell or if a sale falls though.

There is no time for inexperience, empty promises or false expectations!

HIRE WISELY:  We are not all the same!

March 14, 2020

Buying Real Estate “Sight Unseen”

When we experience a “seller’s market”, meaning that there are more buyers looking than there are properties available for them to buy, the competition often leads to frustration.  This is especially true when getting to see inside becomes an issue.  It is not unusual for a buyer to have to bid on several houses before getting an offer accepted.  At least they got to see inside and make an offer, right?

A new policy created by NAR, the National Association of REALTORS, and implemented by Bright MLS has added to the drama.  As a result, some are making offers to buy Real Estate “sight unseen”.  What does this mean and what are the implications?

We have experienced “seller’s markets” before and we will again.  Generally speaking, a combination of low mortgage interest rates and low inventory causes houses to sell quickly, making many buyers and sellers act differently than they might in a more balanced market.  Asking prices may be the “floor” rather than the “ceiling” when it comes to making an offer and a buyer, assuming they have an opportunity to see inside a house and make an offer, may not get a second chance so it may be wise to offer their “highest and best” from the beginning.  However, the regulations covering appraisals are stricter than in the past so offering above the asking price is not always the best answer.  What to do?

Many buyers, frustrated by competition, bidding wars and houses they cannot get in to see, are trying to be creative.  They have several options in addition to the amount of their offer such as:  offering a high deposit, being flexible with a settlement date and waiving inspections.  Some may give up or delay buying.  Many sellers are overwhelmed by multiple showings, multiple offers and, as unusual as this may sound, not knowing whether their highest offer will appraise and, if they get an acceptable offer, whether they will even be able to find their “next” home.  One of the ironies of this type of market is how a seller who has a lot of leverage when selling will react when they are buying without having the same leverage.  The shoe may literally be on the other foot.

Enter the new NAR policy called the “Clear Cooperation Listing Policy”.  It has caused confusion and frustration although most REALTORS understand why it was necessary.  Frankly, it is impossible to deny its purpose.  It requires brokers to upload property information to the MLS within 1 business day, excluding weekends and national or state holidays, of any public advertising which includes a “For Sale” sign and social media.  Violating the policy may result in a substantial fine.  Absent public advertising, we are required to upload the information to the MLS within 3 business days.

Some think the new policy a direct assault on a long-standing business model known as the company or office “exclusive listing” where listings were taken and “publicly advertised” but kept off the MLS because the listing broker would not offer to compensate buyer agents working for other “brands”.  Real Estate prides itself in having many different business models as long as we operate within our various rules and regulations.  However, some of this creativity may appear to conflict with our core principles.  I discuss “exclusive listings” in an article entitled “Coming Soon” and will mention that, while still a legitimate business model, they are no longer able to be “publicly advertised”.

The MLS platform is a member-only web site for sharing property information among members to “cooperate” with them for our mutual benefit.  We are “match makers”, meaning that we help bring buyers and sellers together.  A major aspect of this is that we sell each other’s property listings. The creation of the MLS platform made our jobs easier by increasing the effectiveness and efficiency of how we marketed and learned about property listings.  Before the MLS, agents and companies were on their own.

The goal is to expose Real Estate to the broadest possible market which should theoretically “protect and promote” the interests of both sellers and buyers as required by Article 1 of the REALTOR Code of Ethics.  Presumably, this should allow sellers to achieve the highest possible selling price and the best terms in the shortest period of time by ensuring that as many buyers and agents as possible would be able to access property information, schedule showings and, if a buyer liked what they saw, make an offer.  It essentially levels the playing field by making information and properties accessible to all.

Unfortunately, we still live in a society where some people or groups are excluded from opportunities to see and buy Real Estate.  Undercover investigations and complaints from the public still show this to be true even if not as obvious or pervasive as before.  It is unacceptable when anyone is prevented from being able to buy housing and live where they want to live when affordability is not an issue.

The reaction to any major policy change such as this one can be interesting and it remains to be seen how this one plays out.  Will any listing agent blatantly disregard the policy despite the MLS stating their intention to impose a severe fine for violations?  The public, including agents representing prospective buyers, also has options for responding.

What can a buyer or agent do when they cannot get the information they need about a property listed as “Coming Soon”?  The “Coming Soon” status means no showings are allowed to anyone but the MLS should provide information, shouldn’t it?  The concern is that some agents and their buyers, including the listing agent’s own buyer-clients, are being allowed to view these properties and make offers before they are made available to the public.  Instead of converting to an “Active” status many of these go right to “under contract”.  What are an agent and buyer supposed to do?  They will know the “projected” date when the listing status will change to active, allowing showings, and may even know when offers will be presented.  However, those dates can change without notice so should they wait and hope or take some other form of action?  Waiting may result in failure.  Some are making offers on houses without the buyer or their agent actually seeing inside.  This raises two concerns.

First, we have a fiduciary duty to represent our buyer-clients but what is our risk in preparing an offer on a home that neither of us has seen?  Suppose neither has actually visited the location to see the exterior or the neighborhood?  While I am certainly not a contractor or an inspector, I have seen a number of things both inside and outside houses that made me question the pricing or condition of a home and, when asked, I have offered my opinion on whether to pursue a house, how to negotiate the price and what to inspect.  Obviously an agent needs to make sure they are not exceeding their level of competence.

What options does a buyer have if they come to realize that a house is not as nice as they had hoped or expected based on the exterior or the MLS presentation including pictures and public remarks?  Suppose the listing has poor quality or no pictures and little or nothing in the way of a description?  Most agents will tell you that an inspection contingency provides a “way out” and, while it does, it has a cost to the buyer and it takes time.  Would they make an offer “sight unseen” without inspections?  I could go on.

Second, as a listing agent, as attractive as it may sound to sell a client’s house without their having the  inconvenience of showings, suppose a buyer uses a home inspection to terminate a sale when there is really nothing wrong or a seller would make any repairs they might request?  Perhaps they offered a low deposit and are willing to forfeit it to terminate a contract?  A failed sale stigmatizes a house, perhaps even worse than a lengthy time on the market.  If a house comes back on the market quickly after going under contract it generally means that something happened during the inspection contingency time frame.  That could negatively impact future interest as well as the eventual selling price.  Some listing agents do not report that a house is “under contract” to avoid all of this.

I have heard both sides and wish I had an answer.  There is no perfect solution and buyers and sellers, including their agents, will always have a different perspective.  If a buyer wants to make an offer without seeing inside, is this really the best option?  Where is the liability?  I am not sure.

Realistically, if I were a seller I would be reluctant to accept any offer without a showing especially if it contained a frivolous or easy way out unless there were a substantial, perhaps even a non-refundable, deposit.  If I were a buyer I would be reluctant to buy “sight unseen”.  At the very least I would want to walk the exterior to identify potential concerns and include them in my offer.  Otherwise, a seller might say a house was being sold “as-is”, another contentious term, and was priced accordingly or that any concerns should have been factored into the buyer’s offer.  The cost to inspect and potential time lost could prevent a buyer from seeing the best house.  Does it make sense to reduce buying Real Estate to essentially being like a “blind date” where neither side has any real obligation?

While “seller’s markets” will occur over and over again, the new “Clear Cooperation Listing Policy” has added a new twist to an old theme and time will tell how we all adapt to it.  The first fine for violating the new policy will have a major impact going forward.  A “buyer’s market” will change much of the drama.  Either way, there will always be another twist.

There is no time for inexperience, empty promises or false expectations!

HIRE WISELY:  We are not all the same!

November 15, 2019

49 Things a Listing Agent Should NOT Do, Even If Their Client Accepts Them

Real Estate agents are licensed by the state.  I am in Pennsylvania.  Once approved to represent or “work for” clients, they are bound by RELRA, our Real Estate Licensing and Registration Act, which is enforced by the state Real Estate Commission.  If an agent becomes a REALTOR, which means they belong to national, state and local REALTOR Associations, they are bound by a Code of Ethics which is very similar to RELRA although enforcement is handled through a local Association in most cases.

Once a REALTOR is “hired” to represent a seller-client they owe them certain “fiduciary duties” which are spelled out in the rules and regulations.  They should review and discuss them with their seller-client to ensure that they are committed to working together.  Here is a list of things NOT to do even if the seller-client asks you to do them or if they accept your doing them.  Most of this list comes from real-life examples, fortunately not my own.  I have been mediating seller-buyer and client-agent disputes since 2002.  In addition, I have served on all levels of our Association’s Professional Standards Committee which means I have heard, reviewed, evaluated and resolved many ethics complaints.  As I like to say when I teach ethics to my fellow agents, you can’t make this stuff up.

Here are some examples of what NOT to do when representing an owner selling Real Estate:

  • Do not ask if they are working with another agent or if they have spoken to any other agents;
  • Do not look in the MLS to see their property history or if they own other properties you think you might help them sell. Trust that they own any properties you are discussing;
  • Do not spend a lot of time preparing for the listing conversation. Personality wins every time;
  • Do not clarify what the seller is looking for in terms of their “wants” and “needs”;
  • Do not ask their reason for selling or ask if you can help them identify their next home;
  • If they are planning to buy another property, do not discuss getting them pre-qualified;
  • Do not ask if they know of anyone who has expressed interest in buying their property;
  • Do not ask if they know anyone else looking to sell or buy;
  • Do not ask if the seller can pay off any liens so that they can transfer ownership;
  • Do not explain the selling process, your respective “roles”, your fee and how you earn it;
  • Do not discuss how pricing correlates with location, features, condition and their competition;
  • Do not tell them what you are going to do for them or why they should hire you;
  • Do not review the Consumer Notice with them or ask them to sign it. In fact, do not discuss or document your “business relationship” with them or explain your “fiduciary duties” to them.  If “dual agency” becomes a possibility, you can always discuss it later;
  • Assume you know what is best for them and let them assume you know what you are doing;
  • Do not discuss their local market or a potential “range of values” for an asking or selling price;
  • Do not discuss their potential proceeds or their cost of selling. You can always do that later;
  • Do not ask them to repair or update anything even if you think a buyer, an inspector, an appraiser or a local codes enforcement officer might require repairs later. Everyone likes surprises, don’t they?;
  • Do not discuss how you will market their property;
  • Do not discuss what their options are if the market does not respond favorably to their property;
  • Do not discuss any personal property they may want to include, exclude or make negotiable;
  • Do not explain different financing alternatives, the appraisal process or what a “seller assist” is;
  • Do not sign a listing contract, if at all, until they are ready for showings. If something comes up, you can always figure it out later;
  • Do not tell them that the length or term of the contract and your fee are negotiable by law;
  • Do not explain how “cooperation” with other Real Estate agents works or how your fee can be used to help attract showings and offers. In fact, do not offer a market-driven coop fee or spend too much time preparing the MLS entry as you may really want to sell the property yourself;
  • Do not discuss how your fee is earned or what may happen if they fail to do what is required to complete a sale;
  • Do not explain how the “protection period” works;
  • Do not discuss scheduling showings and how important they are or tell them that some agents arrive late without rescheduling or fail to show up at all;
  • Do not tell them that “feedback” is old-fashioned and that most agents will not respond when asked;
  • Do not use an appointment center: make buyer agents call you for showings and then do not return their calls promptly.  Perhaps make sure their buyers are “qualified” to save time;
  • Do not explain how deposit money is handled if a sale falls through;
  • Do not discuss how you will handle inquiries about “other interest”, the existence of other offers or how you will handle inquiries and offers after a purchase agreement has been signed;
  • Do not discuss the law regarding the property and lead disclosures and do not review them before you upload them to the MLS. Perhaps you will not upload them until agents call you to request them;
  • Do not discuss home warranties or offer sellers an opportunity to include one with a sale;
  • Do not tell them that they cannot refuse to sell to people who aren’t like them;
  • Do not offer advice for preparing their home for sale and for showings;
  • Do not show them a copy of their MLS printout. Do you really need good pictures or a “remarks” section for buyers to evaluate the property?  Do you really need to show all of the features?;
  • Do not explain the Agreement of Sale to them. If fact, make sure all of the paperwork is done electronically so that you can save them time by not having to meet with you in person;
  • Do not discuss a negotiating strategy, especially if you have “multiple offers”, or ask what is important for them when comparing offers;
  • Do not discuss what may happen from the time an offer is signed through settlement;
  • Do not explain the contingencies in the Agreement of Sale, especially the inspections and municipal requirements, if any, or what could possibly go wrong;
  • Do not ask the buyer’s agent to attend inspections and be accountable for providing access;
  • Do not stay on top of the timeframes in the Agreement of Sale or provide ongoing updates;
  • Do not explain the mediation clause or what it means should a problem arise;
  • Do not tell them to maintain property insurance until a sale is completed;
  • Do not discuss any concerns that a buyer, an inspector or an appraiser might have which could affect the selling price or the seller’s proceeds and possibly end the sale unsuccessfully;
  • Do not document changes to any contracts or provide them with copies of everything they sign;
  • Do not promote or protect their interests above yours. Assume that “confidentiality” is not important if it gets in your way.  The acronym, OLD CAR, which describes our “fiduciary duties”, only makes you remember the first car you ever owned;
  • Do not suggest they contact a professional, such as a lawyer, when they have any questions;
  • Do not stay in touch after a sale! After all, they will remember your spectacular performance, won’t they?

Of course, this list is really intended to show you most of what we are expected to do, even if actual performance may vary from one agent to another.  Our “fiduciary duties” require that we obey your lawful instructions, be loyal to you, disclose what we know, keep your business confidential, account for any monies we handle and that we provide reasonable care and due diligence to you.  There is so much more to working for sellers and buyers than simply doing the paperwork.  Even if you have sold or bought Real Estate before, we have knowledge and insight gained through experience, training and education.  We are expected to protect and promote your interests throughout the process and to be knowledgeable and competent in what we do.  Our clients have the right to expect nothing less.

When it comes to selling what is typically a person’s largest asset:

There is no time for inexperience, empty promises or false expectations!

HIRE WISELY:  We are not all the same!

November 2, 2019

Bright MLS Listing Statuses and What They Mean

There are two primary tools used for conveying property information for buying and selling Real Estate.  While there are literally hundreds of possible ways to communicate this information, except for specific market segments which may use or need a different approach, all but the top two pale in comparison as far as efficiency and effectiveness.  Real Estate agents are the “match makers” bringing sellers and buyers together:  we participate in over 91% of Real Estate transactions.

By efficiency I mean having the ability to mass market information as quickly as possible.  Marketing means exposure and exposure should ensure that a seller achieve the highest possible selling price in a reasonable amount of time.  Whether the value the market attaches to a property meets the seller’s expectations or not is another story.  The fact is that Real Estate needs to be exposed to the mass market, properties have to be available to be shown to prospective buyers and sellers need to believe that the value they are offered has not been negatively impacted by poor or limited exposure.  Sellers are either motivated by time or money so some may be willing to settle for less if they sell quickly.

By effective I mean that prospective buyers and their agents must be able to readily identify all of the options which meet the buyer’s wants and needs.  Buyers need to be able to believe that they are getting the best value for their dollar by being able to compare what is available for purchase and to compare what is available with what has been sold as far as location, features, condition and price.  The concept of “data integrity” means that information is uploaded accurately so that it can be identified by people searching for it.  Of course, listing agents and mortgage appraisers need to rely on the information as well.  No one benefits from inefficient or ineffective means of conveying Real Estate information.

So, what are the two tools?  They are the multiple listing service and the Internet.  Agents use the MLS to research the market, to offer their listings to the masses and to attach a “range of values” to what they are hired to sell as listing or buying agents.  While often not a direct link, generally what is uploaded to the MLS is “syndicated” to the third-party public-facing websites on the Internet.  While information can be placed on the Internet beyond what the MLS offers or without any placement in the MLS, the Internet has its own limitations.  For example, while it provides lots of data and information, it is a static medium which cannot provide the knowledge and insight an agent can.  It also cannot provide up-to-the-minute access to property listings or information about recently settled properties.  As an example, most people understand that the “valuation” models provided by Internet sites are unreliable even if they do not know that the lack of real-time information is a major reason for that.

My point is not to compare the two media although there are significant differences.  The public should not assume that they can “shop online” for property and Real Estate information, delay contacting an experienced, trained, educated and knowledgeable professional and still expect the best possible outcome.  Buying and selling Real Estate are too important and too many are ill-equipped for the process and the decisions that typically will follow.  Both media, while different, need to rely on “data integrity”, meaning that anyone who finds “information” on either platform should be able to trust that it is valid and that is the problem.

One major point of focus is the “listing status” of the property so I will discuss the different MLS statuses and give a brief description.  It has been my experience that some agents and many consumers do not clearly understand what these terms mean.  Misinformation can be costly given that the sale or purchase of Real Estate is typically the most expensive financial transaction a consumer will make.  The cost of mistakes can be high with little chance to recover lost opportunity.  Now, the statuses.

Active:  means that a property is available for showings and for purchase.  This seems simple enough but Bright has a 3-business day rule meaning that status changes, including price changes, must be reported within 3 business days with the date of the “change” counting as day #1.  Good agents will verify the listing status before showing a property or writing an offer.  Failure to comply with the rule may violate rules and regulations;

Active Under Contract:  means that there is an executed purchase agreement but the property is still available for showings.  The real question is why?  Does the seller have the right to terminate the existing contract or are they just looking for “back-up” offers in case something happens?  Whichever is the case should be obvious.  Good agents will ask questions.  The key point here is that showings must be allowed;

Canceled:  means that the listing contract has been canceled;

Closed:  also called “settled”, means that the sale or lease has been finalized;

Coming Soon:  means that the property is not available for showings but listing agents must respond to inquiries whether the property is the MLS or not.  This is a current “hot topic” which is still evolving;

Expired:  means that the listing contract term has run out without a sale;

Temporarily Off Market:  means that showings have been stopped and will resume at some point.  There are no showings but offers can be submitted;

Pending:  means that the property is “under contract” or sold but not settled.  No further showings will be scheduled;

Withdrawn:  means that the marketing has stopped but the listing contract still binds the seller to the listing broker.  The seller may still be interested in receiving offers but there are now showings.

Agents and the public must understand what the different statuses mean and agents must use them properly.  Few things frustrate a prospective buyer more than feeling that they are being excluded from a property especially if they think that the listing agent is the cause.  Our REALTOR Code of Ethics requires that we protect and promote the interests of our client and be honest with the public.  Failure to do either can and has hurt how we are perceived.  Sellers and buyers should feel comfortable asking questions about the process and deserve to be given honest and complete answers.

There is no time for inexperience, empty promises or false expectations!

 HIRE WISELY:  We are not all the same!

October 22, 2019

New Bright MLS Listing Policy (October 2019)

This week Bright MLS announced a new policy regarding property listings that are “advertised”.  The policy begins with the following language:

“The MLS system encourages competition in the marketplace while also ensuring cooperation and compensation among real estate professionals.  Full participation in the MLS ensures the seller has the largest possible marketplace, and the buyer has the widest possible selection.  This policy will help provide transparency and access to information in the real estate marketplace”. 

The reaction on Facebook was as swift and voluminous as I have ever seen in my years of engaging in social media.  I called the response “nuclear”.  While many, including myself, agree with the thought behind the policy change, a majority found it objectionable, questioning the ability of the MLS to interfere with how they conduct their business.  Let me add some history and context to the situation.

Bright was formed in 2018 by the merger of multiple MLS systems.  It covers several mid-Atlantic states and serves almost 100,000 Real Estate licensees.  Before Bright, our local MLS was called Trend and it served about 30,000 agents.  Until this new policy, there was a “3-day rule” that stated that any change in the status of any property had to be reported to MLS membership within 3 business days.  It excluded weekends and national holidays and the date the change was made counted as the first day.  The changes included new listings taken, price reductions and status changes.  The rationale was transparency.  The rule still applies with the one exception covered by the new policy.

For sellers, it encouraged full-market exposure for their properties which should result in more competition and the sellers attaining the highest value.  For buyers, it meant they could access all property listings that matched what they were looking for so that they could make an offer knowing they had considered of all their options.  For agents and their clients it meant having the ability to evaluate the market for comparing and attaching values to properties offered for sale.  All that being said, allowing 3 business days created problems even when agents complied with the rule.  What could happen in 3 business days?

New listings could be shared with segments of the market before receiving full exposure.  Sellers might not get the benefit of full competition.  Buyers might put a house under contract without seeing all of the possibilities.  Agents might show houses that were already “under contract”.  Will any rule change any of these?  Probably not but trying to minimize the problems we have dealt with might add to market efficiency and effectiveness and enhance our image as professionals.  One can only hope!

In my various roles in addition to listing and selling houses, I have heard many complaints over the years from agents unable to get information about houses not yet uploaded to the MLS.  Their buyers saw “For Sale” signs and some information online and wondered why their agent was unable to provide additional information they needed to make an informed decision about property.  Even if the information is in the MLS, some listing agents are the point of contact for scheduling showing appointments and some do not respond to inquiries in a timely manner but that is a separate issue.  What good can come from keeping property information secret?  The general presumption is often that these listing agents do not want competition and that they are trying to sell their own listings.  That may or may not be fair but their actions create those feelings and those perceptions taint all agents.

Here is the new policy:   Within one business day of marketing a property to the public, the Participant must submit the listing to Bright MLS for cooperation with other Bright MLS Participants.”

Let’s break this down.  “One business day” apparently means 24 business hours.  I would prefer that it really meant a “business day” as that is easier to monitor.  “Marketing” should be easy to define but it apparently isn’t.  For example, putting up a “For Sale” sign or uploading property information to the Internet is considered marketing but, as was explained in a Bright MLS video intended to clarify the new policy, “marketing” in emails seems to be correlated with how many people are included in the communication which makes this awkward to say the least.  I like definitive rules and regulations.  Regardless, I believe the intent is good and, if followed, will allow agents to answer questions about price and features and should help the overall Real Estate experience.

I have followed the developing reactions online and have read a number of reasons why some agents seem to feel this new policy is wrong.  One specific concern that makes sense is that agents who use a third-party to install their “For Sale” signs may not know exactly when the sign has been installed.  The easy answer is to upload the listing to the MLS before placing the sign order.  Frankly, while I am certain that some agents have valid concerns that needed to be discussed and addressed, most of what I have read seems to be complaints that some listing agents will not be able to control activity which makes me wonder whose interest they are serving.  A number have mentioned wanting to restrict needless showings to minimize their clients’ inconvenience.  I wonder how they do that while complying with the various laws affecting Real Estate.  Frankly, I empathize with the thought but, as I have opined before, this is not a retail transaction:  showings are generally required to allow buyers and agents to assess Real Estate and they will be inconvenient but that  inconvenience will end once an agreement is signed.  Trying to manage showings and control the marketing might make people wonder who is being restricted from viewing a property and what the real intent might be.

I saw one interesting comment from a buyer’s agent:  they said they had a client who wanted to buy a house that had not been in the MLS or on the Internet to avoid any privacy issues after settlement.  Again I empathize:  listed properties stay online after the sale closes or after the house is taken off the market and anyone can see interior photos even if they reflect prior ownership.  The Internet has affected privacy and I am not sure how to change that.  In my opinion, only active and available properties should be online and properties that sell or come off the market should be removed.

Time will tell if this new policy works.  Will it be modified?  Will deviation be allowed?  What will happen to those who violate it?  There is a heavy fine proposed for non-compliance.

As an experienced, educated and knowledgeable professional, I embrace the efficiency of the MLS.  Prior to our having an MLS, trying to get property information out to the broad a market was tedious, time-consuming and expensive because it was so inefficient.  As someone who bought a personal residence prior to there being an MLS, I remember all too well the hardship we faced identifying every possibility to consider.

Buying and selling Real Estate are infrequent acts that typically involve our biggest asset so the processes deserve all the attention and respect we can give them.  Article 1 of our Code of Ethics requires us to promote and protect the best interest of our client above all else.  While some may think that that means keeping information off the MLS, my best guess is that an overwhelming majority benefit by getting information published as quickly as possible.  We need to make sure our clients fully understand the benefits of using the MLS and our services even if that means we lose a little control.  I certainly hope that it isn’t all about the commission!

There is no time for inexperience, empty promises or false expectations!

HIRE WISELY:  We are not all the same!

April 24, 2019

Why I Enjoy Being a REALTOR®

After working in retail for a number of years I decided to make a change.  Like many, I was fascinated with Real Estate and made plans to get my license.  I did three things to prepare myself for the adjustment.  First, I started reading books about sales and then about Real Estate.  I read 12 books on sales and then 4 about working in Real Estate.  I stopped when the books got redundant and I felt that I knew enough to move forward.  Second, I selected 4 different Real Estate companies to contact and interview.  I found two of them interesting even though I was not yet ready to make a commitment.

The third step was time consuming but critical:  I wanted to try a sales position to make sure it was something I could enjoy before pursuing a career in Real Estate.  While many of us think it too easy to get licensed, it does require investments in time and money so I wanted to be prepared.  After becoming comfortable in sales, I was ready to commit to a Real Estate company.  The rest is history.

I took an extra step and became a REALTOR® which means that I belong to local, state and national REALTOR® Associations and subscribe to a formal Code of Ethics.  I have also taken many courses and earned several designations and certifications to improve my knowledge so that I can better represent my clients.  I consider myself an advisor or consultant rather than a salesperson.  As an Associate Broker I am allowed to call myself that whereas a basic licensee is not.  I work for sellers and for buyers, advising them and helping them reach their goals.  I view our relationship as a partnership although they get to make the decisions.

Like many, I had a mixed perception of “sales people” and did not want to use persuasion to convince people to do things that were not in their own best interests so that I could earn a living.  Sadly, I see people in different sales positions whose only goal seems to be to make money.  This can be especially problematic in Real Estate given the costs involved and the impact on people’s financial situation.

As a seller agent, I have enjoyed helping sellers move on in their life, many times helping sellers who had tried and failed to sell with one or more other agents.  Listing contracts typically “expire” as a result of over-pricing and/ or poor marketing.  People move for a variety of reasons and they need to determine whether the selling price or the length of time before selling is more important to them.  I have helped sellers who wanted larger or smaller homes, wanted a better neighborhood or school district for their children, were tired of dealing with tenants, who were selling estates of family members as well as other reasons.  I can assist a seller with the preparation generally required before we market a home and make it available for showings and offers.  There are many more details along the way than most sellers realize just as there are a variety of reasons for selling Real Estate.  All agents are not the same!

As a buyer agent, I have helped many purchase their first home, their next home or an investment property.  This can be very interesting if they are selling one property to buy another.  I enjoy showing people houses where they can begin a new chapter in their life or continue on their path.  Having children involved can make it more fun.  There are times when their children do not want to move and there are times when seeing children excited about their new adventure makes the process very fulfilling.  When people buy a home they are buying a lifestyle, making it a very important decision.

Helping clients these days is more complicated than it was during my first few years.  The Internet has changed things and it often adds confusion to the process.  It helps sellers by exposing their properties to the public and allows buyers to shop online for houses to consider.  It can be a great tool but it has its limitations, primarily for buyers.  Many buyers start the process by searching online to identify houses to consider buying.  That can be fun but it can lead to their paying less attention to the preparation required to make a formal offer to a seller.  Some buyers start by contacting a number of listing agents and looking at a number of properties.  Many can get overwhelmed.  Choices are great but can cause confusion!  A serious buyer needs to “position” themselves to be able to make a formal offer to a seller.  This is especially true in a competitive market.  Timing can be everything.

A buyer needs to get pre-qualified with a reputable lender to arrive at a price range for them to consider and determine their wants and needs, including locations.  Their plans will likely evolve but there should be a starting point.  If their market is competitive, any delay in preparing to make an offer could pose a problem.  Some buyers will find themselves unable to obtain the financing they need to make a purchase; others may need to do some work to get financing.  If they find out either after falling in love with a house that can be devastating not to mention being a waste of their time.

Even if there is only a slight delay in getting financing, that may allow a competing buyer to close an offer before they are even in a position to make an offer that a seller will respond to.  My best advice is to get pre-qualified and hire an exclusive agent before spending too much time “shopping”.  I also tell my clients that it may be best to ignore most of what you read online as most information is very general in nature and may have little relevance to any individual house search.

As with retail, I enjoy interacting with people and helping them navigate an endless variety of circumstances.  Unlike retail, selling Real Estate requires a longer interaction.  We establish deeper relationships with our clients than with a retail customer.  That being said, too many confuse the two types of purchases:  buying Real Estate is NOT a retail transaction.  Even if financing is not needed, a Real Estate purchase may take a few weeks and will generally include a number of “contingencies” that must be met to keep the process moving forward.  There are typically several points where either party may change their mind.

I believe that, despite the influence of the Internet or perhaps because of it, our role is more important than ever.  A professional, ethical and knowledgeable Real Estate agent was always expected to educate their consumer.  Today, I find that I often have to uneducate them as far as showing them that what they think they know may not be accurate and could be holding them back.  So much of the information the public relies on is incomplete or wrong.  While they may have access to date and information, I can provide knowledge and insight.  This does not always sit well with our clients.

I have seen a lot over the years.  In addition to working with buyers and sellers, I also teach other REALTORS®, I mediate disputes between agents or between buyers and sellers and I sit on hearing panels making decisions about possible violations of our REALTOR® Code of Ethics.  You cannot make up the things I have seen.

I have been protecting and promoting the best interests of my clients since 1996 and always tell people that, when you are planning to sell or buy Real Estate, there is no time for inexperience, empty promises or false expectations!

Remember:  HIRE WISELY!  We are not all the same!

September 22, 2017

The Internet and Real Estate: a Bridge OR a Wall?

The Internet provides information 24/7 and has caused “disintermediation“, meaning that it has placed itself directly between the consumer and the Real Estate professional.  We helped divert or even push the public towards the easy access provided by the Internet by using a tight fist to control the information.  There was a time when you had to call us to get what you wanted.  They call that the “gatekeeper” model.

Now that so much information is easily (and often, freely) obtained without needing to rush to hire an agent, our role has been delayed but not eliminated.  Unfortunately, what should be likened to a “bridge”, meaning it provides useful and timely information to a consumer not ready to engage a professional but nonetheless curious, has becomes a “wall“.  The information should “facilitate” the process of buying or selling Real Estate by preparing people to take action but there is far too much misinformation and it is too easy to diminish the role that a professional Realtor should play in such a major undertaking.  Frankly, many do not know what they do not know and they too often waste time that could have been put to better use even if that means finding out that they cannot get mortgage financing!  Information is king but there is more to the process than mere words and anecdotes.  There is no substitute for experience.

HIRE WISELY!

Please read my other posts at WhyAndrewWetzel.com and visit my web site AndrewWetzel.com

September 14, 2017

Want to Sell a House? Think baseball!

You may not have read my earlier, related post using an analogy about buying a house and baseball (https://andrewwetzel.wordpress.com/2017/09/12/want-to-buy-a-house-think-baseball/) so let me state my premise:  analogies are a great way to make complex topics seem simple. Selling and buying Real Estate are NOT “rocket science” but, unfortunately, too many underestimate what they think they know when making what is typically the largest financial decision of their life.

Why baseball? There is no time limit and it has four specific reference points. Let me explain. Home plate is where you start and, if you are successful, you will round the bases and return home. Home plate is the goal and you can get there two ways:  you can successfully navigate each base (one at a time!) or you can hit one out of the park. In this analogy the fielders are obstructions that can stop you in your tracks or delay your progress. The pitcher represents “life”, tossing you the ball which is the opportunity to sell (or buy). In order to succeed, you need to reach EACH base and satisfy some requirement to move forward. By the way, in this analogy, a HOME RUN means finding your own buyer or giving your house away so you do not need to do much else.

First base:  having made the decision (or, unfortunately, being forced) to sell, you need to make the public aware that your house (or property) is available. Reaching “first base” means that you have hired a professional agent to market your home. That task is so much easier today because of the Internet but do NOT let that invention delude you into thinking that you have the ability to sell your own house! As you should know, there is a wide variation in terms of qualifications and expertise between agents but even the newest agent has hours of training and ample resources that a typical member of public does not. In addition, selling is one thing (it is largely based on price and value) while getting to settlement is where we earn our fee. So, your house is “on the market”, presumably you have a “For Sale” sign in place, your property information is in the MLS and being shared on countless web sites and you are waiting for people to line up to throw their hard-earned dollars your way. If only it were that easy!

Second base:  showing have started which, at the very least, suggests that people know your house is available and they are curious. If you are not getting showings you need to review your plan:  is your asking price competitive with your local market as far as location, features and condition? How is the “marketing”? You can spend countless hours and endless resources on this topic but it really boils down to two things: can agents find your property listing in their MLS searches and can prospective buyers find your listing in their online searches? If they cannot, you can reduce your asking price as far and as often as you wish but may have nothing to show for it if people do not know your house is on the market. Call me and I will share specific examples! Even if you are getting showings, you probably have no way of knowing whether the buyers are “qualified” let alone serious and you most likely have no idea who the agents are that are using your keys to walk through your castle. Showing your house is not fun and can be very inconvenient but it is necessary so most sellers prefer not to linger too long at this phase. To advance, you need to get offers to negotiate.

Third base:  congratulations! You have an executed agreement of sale. This means that you and a prospective buyer have agreed in writing to a specific price and to specific terms and conditions including inspections and a settlement/ closing date. The seller and buyer, with ample support and direction from their agents, have specific tasks to accomplish. Some are universal while others may depend on local practice. Either way, you both need to see to it that a composite list of items are completed before or, in some cases, at closing.

Home“:  hopefully both parties are satisfied and remain committed to the process, looking forward to the next phase of their lives without hesitation. This assumes that they worked out any inspection issues, that the buyer got their financing or has the cash to buy and that the seller is able to provide “clear title” (including removing any liens/ debt from the property). The process concludes with the ceremonial passing of the keys and the issuing of any funds due.

There will be times when the parties need to interact after settlement and those interactions can be unpleasant. The process leading up to and whatever happens after settlement often involve opportunities for disagreement and doubt, even in the smoothest sales. How they are managed depends on preparation and effort. You will get to re-evaluate the process from time to time so it is important to …

HIRE WISELY!

Please read my other posts at WhyAndrewWetzel.com and visit my web site AndrewWetzel.com

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