Babs DeLay

Babs DeLay

2011

If you’re one of the unfortunate people who had to sell their home on short sale in 2010 because you owed more than what your house was worth, check your mailbox and see if the previous lender(s) have sent you a 1099 form to file with your tax return next month.  That form is evidence that your lender(s) forgave your debt when you sold the property. If you didn’t get the letter, you may be chewing your nails for years to come.

            Let’s say you sold your home last year for $200,000 but you owed $250,000. The Realtor who helped you sell the property worked with you and the bank to negotiate the mortgage down to a level where the home could be sold and not go to foreclosure.  It worked! You walked out of the closing without any money, but you also got out of $50,000 of debit. Um, maybe not.  Revisit your documents from the closing and the short sale negotiations with the lender.  But, IF the lender forgave the deficiency (of the $50,000 example), you will have a 1099 form that counts the $50,000 towards your ordinary income in the year of your short sale.  Not to panic because a law passed in 2007 allows the owners of primary residences to not pay taxes on that deficiency. Don’t quote me on tax matters though-talk to the IRS or your CPA.

            Here’s the nail biter: IF you didn’t get a 1099 a lender may be coming after you for that $50,000 in years to come.  Most people who are upside down on their home often have a first mortgage and a second mortgage. Lenders can file against you for the deficiency amount for up to six years after you sell your home. Lenders can file within three months to claim that deficient amount after a sale  if they have a first mortgage against you. If they don’t file, they lose the right to file. The second mortgage can take up to six years to file against you if they weren’t the one who initiated the foreclosure proceedings.

            If you think you may be haunted by a lender coming after you once your property was sold, talk to a legal professional. There are plenty of legitimate non-profits out there to help you get the facts.  You may have to consider filing bankruptcy to get rid of that debt. Whatever you do, don’t sit on your laurels and think just because you sold a home on short sale that you may be free of the mortgage debt. There are companies popping up all over the country going out to lenders and saying, “Hey, we’ll go after those former home owners for you!”.  And we all know there’s nothing worse than a debt collector calling you night and day, right?

March 11, 2011

We've Gone GREENER!

 

2011

I’m calling out all the other real estate companies in the state to make a concerted effort to GET GREENER. My firm is now the first real estate brokerage in the state to banish ‘fact sheets’ attached to real estate signs in order to achieve a more greener business practice. Fact sheets or info sheets on listing signs take up an enormous amount of paper as well as staff time to keep them full. Phasing out and fully replacing these boxes with a more permanent option only makes sense to be greener.

In our recent practices a ‘yard arm’ with a brokerage ‘for sale’ sign would go up on a home for sale. Attached to the sign would be a plastic box or tube for 8.5 X 11” flyers about the property. I figure we used 5000 reams of paper on fact sheets for our for sale signs just last year. That’s 300 trees we killed.

Now all our flyers are all being replaced with a ‘semi-permanent’ sign attached to the ‘for sale’ sign. This has the basic information found on any flyer PLUS a QR code.  QR codes are scrambled bar codes that can be read by any smart phone bar code (free) reader.  This way a buyer can walk up to the sign, read the flyer and then download the QR code on the bottom of the sign. Their smart phone will download ALL the photos of the property. The fact sheet itself will (on the sign and in the download) provide contact information, massive photos, pricing, interior and exterior information. This can then be saved in the phone or emailed immediately to anyone.  The new fact sheet sign can then be re-cycled with a new flyer for another listing when the home is sold.

I’ve owned my own brokerage for 10 years now and in that time period I figure over 3000 trees were killed to produce the paper used for real estate flyers just by my firm. That floored me. I went on the web and found in Built Green and Sustainable Living that to built a 2000 sq. foot all-wood home, the construction would required the killing of 100 trees. We don’t build many all-wood homes here in Utah, but we definitely put up wooden frames to support the stucco. If I estimate that framing a home would take say 30 trees, then I could have helped build over 100 homes over those 10 years. I’ve been in business almost 30 years and I’m betting in addition to that 100 home projection I personally contributed to 10 times the loss of trees coming down in order to provide information on houses to get them sold.

I can only imagine how many trees have been killed by the big corporate real estate brokerages in the state in addition to the ones I’ve helped cut. I’m just a single number among the thousands of licensed agents in the state of Utah. I hope other real estate brokerages and agents in the state wide follow my lead and commit to eliminating the practice of paper-eating, environment-killing outside fact sheets on all for ‘sale signs’.” QR codes can be generated for free on any product, property or company from any of a hundred websites and apps. The cost then is zero to generate the code, and the semi-permanent sign can be recycled from house to house with a new flyer/sticker going over the old one.

2011

Real estate sales is a mystery to people buying a home for the first time mainly because there is so much to learn before the move. Buyers get a whole new vocabulary of ‘pre-qualification, home inspection, home warranty, radon, locking or floating interest rates, and closing costs’, not to mention ‘bungalow, rambler, townhome, condo, CCR’s’ and the like!

Over 90% of all buyers begin looking on the web at listings of homes for sale. The term ‘listing’ gets thrown around a lot by Realtors. We assume people know what we’re talking about. In a nutshell, a ‘listing’ is a property that has been registered, cataloged and made public from one main data base that is owned by different entities. In Salt Lake for example, the ‘Wasatch Front Multiple Listing Service’ is the one and only data base used by Realtors along the Wasatch Front to offer homes for sale on behalf of sellers. The WFRMLS is owned mainly by three Boards of Realtors in the State. The website is www.utahrealestate.com and you can find homes for sale virtually state wide, but mainly in Provo, Salt Lake, Ogden and close-by burbs. The information about the home is offered there, including: asking price, size and details about the interior and exterior of the property, things that are included (garage, hot tub, appliances) or not included. Also the ‘listing agent’ contact information and brokerage name should be on the site that you’re looking at on the web.

Buyers and sellers often don’t understand that all the listings of homes come from one data source but will appear on up to 9,000,000 other websites. If a homeowner lists their property with my brokerage, their listing will show up on the Coldwell, Prudential, Re/Max, etc. websites. Their listings will show up on my website as well. There’s really no creditability these days to a brokerage telling you in their marketing plan that they can get you onto more real estate websites than any other brokerage. Everyone’s listings are on everyone’s websites because most of us have a link to the full MLS on our home pages of each brokerage. It may appear that an agent through ABC brokerage might have 30 condo listings downtown, when in fact he doesn’t. If you read the fact sheet of the listing on his website, you will see in tiny print somewhere on that page who the real listing agent is, and the brokerage it’s listed with in the MLS.  It’s a good thing that everyone’s listings are available on everyone’s website for a seller-the more exposure the better, right?!

There are only a few reasons why a home might not show up in a property search: 1) it’s got a sale pending; 2) it’s been taken off the market or 3) the seller has requested that the home not be mass-marketed. Any Realtor can show any other Realtor’s listings through the MLS system (with appointment or instructions).

The MLS is a terrific data source and great way for buyers to initially see what might be available in the areas and price ranges they are wanting to search and live in.  There is nothing to replace a Realtor though because we are the ones ready and able to show you those homes you find!

2011

“Is this a safe neighborhood?” asks my buyer as we look at homes. I really can’t answer that question, but I can send my buyer to a myriad of websites to find out the answer. I might think it’s a safe hood, but I’m not a statistician. Thanks to technology you can find out where all the ‘Chester the Molesters’ live in your potential zip code and check police statistics for type of crimes (robberies, rapes, murders, etc.) in the area.

Recently I was showing homes to a mom and dad with three kids. They had grown out of their home in Rose Park and wanted more space. We hovered around two different neighborhoods and found two homes they liked that were about the same price. After our outing, the mom went home to her computer and went to the State website for sex offenders in Utah and discovered that by one of the homes there were 300 sex offenders, and only 12 offenders registered near the other one. She called me immediately and said ‘we want the home where only 12 creeps live nearby’. After some negotiations, they bought the house.

Apart from the obvious checks of public statistics and data about a neighborhood, there are other simple things both home owners and renters can do to make their property more secure. Remember the story on how Brian David Mitchell broke into the Smart house to abduct Elizabeth Smart? He supposedly cut through a screen in front of an open window. Crime happens in all neighborhoods, and many crimes happen just because people make it easy for criminals to harm them or steal their property. For crime statistics in Utah, go to: http://publicsafety.utah.gov/bci/crimestatistics . 

Here are some good tips to be safer:

  1. Lock your damned house and your damned car. Police friends tell me the number one crime in Salt Lake City is ‘car prowls’-where cars are broken into (locked and unlocked) because people left stuff in them that was visible to the criminal;
  2. If you rent or buy, have your locks re-tumbled. You don’t have to go to the expense of buying all new locks when you take occupancy. Just have a lock smith re-tumble the guts of the locks and make a new key. If you’re a renter, do this with your landlord’s permission of course. You never know who’s had keys to your property before you got there, right?
  3. Consider installing an alarm system. There are several local companies that will come wire your house and put in simple to elaborate alarm systems. I had a home once where the front door lock didn’t always catch. For $30 a month I had an alarm system, and when the door blew open they would call me and tell me ‘your front door is open again’.
  4. When you have the lock smith or alarm company come over, have them take a look at your window locks as well. If you’re in an older home, there are often small basement windows which you might not think of as a potential entry for criminals-because the windows are just too small. That’s foolish because criminals break those windows out, have little kids crawl inside them once they are busted out to go open up doors.
  5. Meet your damned neighbors! I just listed a home where the owners had lived in the home 30 years and they had only met two neighbors during their entire occupancy. You let neighbors know your name, your contact information and watch your property when you aren’t home with a promise to do the same for them. Better yet, get your neighborhood involved in the local neighborhood mobile watch program.

2011

Showing vacant homes to potential buyers is always an adventure, especially in an economy where there are so many foreclosures, short sales and flippers. Because of the huge amount of inventory I drive around and preview properties to save buyers time in seeing homes they wouldn't want. This last week I was doing just that in the Highland Park area of Sugar House.

I always make appointments with listing agents before I show a home, even a vacant home, to find out how to access it and to see if it is still available and not under contact. This particular home is a flipper-a former foreclosure cleaned up and modernized quickly and put back on the market for sale by a new owner. The agent had it staged so there was a minimum of nice furniture in the rooms. I drove up and noticed a truck in the driveway and thought "Oh, someone is parking there to make the house look occupied."

I opened the keybox, and walked in about 6 feet into the front room. I then heard, "Oh shit!" from a male voice, a bedroom door slam, and a female voice start giggling hysterically. Knowing the floorplan of this style home, I knew it was the master bedroom. I yelled, "REALTOR! I won't come in the bedroom, I just need to run downstairs and see the ceiling height!". The giggling girl voice continued, I ran downstairs and came back up through the kitchen. The top of a contractor lock box was sitting on the counter with the house key next to it. "Aha" I thought, "That's how they got into the home and I'll bet the guy in the bedroom was one of the workers that helped fix up the home for resale". As I left, I yelled, "REALTOR leaving now!". The giggling continued.

As I pulled away from the property I called the listing agents office and asked to speak to his secretary. When she answered I asked her, "By any chance are you inside the home at XYZ address?" She said she was sitting at her desk and asked me why I asked. I told her there were people inside the listing having sex and she was aghast. She asked me for the license plate numbers of the truck in the driveway and the car out front, and I told her I would drive back around the block and get them for her. About 30 minutes later the agent himself called me and said, "By any chance, did that truck have a big sticker on the back of it?" I laughed and said yes and he knew exactly which employee was over there. Busted, totally.

It is a good house, albeit overpriced. I emailed my clients that night and told them the story and that it was a home worth looking at and they eagerly said, "Let's go see the sex-staged house!". I showed it to them the next morning and well, bad form on the listing agent behalf-the bed was ruffled and hadn't been remade. The buyers wife commented, "Well this house certainly doesn't smell like fresh baked cookies!"

2011

            Where’s the buyer? Where’s the seller?  These are questions I often get at the closing table when the client is signing their final sales or purchase documents at the title company.  People are very surprised that the other party isn’t sitting with them at the closing table signing papers at the same time.

            Back in the day when we wrote purchase contracts on bark with bloody arrow tips, Realtors who had written an offer on a property would call the other agent to arrange a time to sit down with them and the sellers to present the offer in person. This helped personalize the process-sellers could ask questions about buyers and agents could feel out ‘the other side’ as to the vibe of the parties doing the deal. Then came mobile phones and fax machines. I remember years ago when Georgia Ball was the broker of The Ramsey Group. I called her one day to tell her I had an offer on one of her properties and asked if I could fax it to her. She said, “We’ll never get one of those machines!”. The Ramsey Group got a fax a few months later as did every other real estate brokerage.

            With modern technology ruling all our lives, it is rare that buyers and sellers meet before, during and after a real estate transaction. Nowadays an offer is written, scanned (faxes kill trees), and emailed to the other agent. Sometimes the agent writing the offer doesn’t call the listing agent, just sends an email of the offer with a loan pre-approval letter attached, and hopes for the best. People just don’t sit down and meet anymore-everything is done virtually.  I did five transactions with another agent a few years back and I never met the agent. All the offers, counter offers, inspection responses, questions were done via email and scans.

            Also know that buyers and sellers often work with two different title companies to close a transaction. In the bark days of contracts there was a rule that the seller always chose the title company. Buyers had problems with that and helped changed the rules of business and laws so that now buyers can work with their own title company and sellers can work with theirs.  The advantage to this is that there are two groups watching to make sure the title reports, deeds and final sale paperwork is done correctly and recorded with the County correctly. The disadvantage to this system of choice is that a transaction may be delayed (in some cases) because so many different parties are involved in the final sale.

            If you’re a buyer and the sellers of the home still live in the home, you can arrange for a final walk through before you sign the closing documents on the transaction. This can be a few days before you sign and it’s a great opportunity to find out: when is garbage day? What time does the mail come? Who are your neighbors? Tell me all the nuances of the home the inspector didn’t mention (like, “Sometimes when it rains a lot this back door sticks”)!

January 25, 2011

Buyers Are Smarter

2011

A long time ago in a world when there were no mobile phones, internet, wi-fi and cable TV there was a top secret information bank of real estate data called the MLS (multiple listing service). This was where information was stored exclusively for the use of Realtors and shared only with clients. When the 'interwebs' (what my 80 year old friend calls it) became working and assessable for the common human and listings could be had by anyone at the touch of a keyboard, Realtors were convinced that our jobs would disappear. What? Allow the public to see our information? "Oh no, the end is near!".

Long story short, the need for Realtors didn't go away once customers could find homes on the internet. Interestingly enough, the Utah Association of Realtors completed a study earlier this year to find out why people might want to use a Realtor to buy a home. The number one answer from the public poll was simple: to show them homes.

Buyers are smarter because they have access to information. There are over 9,000,000 websites where you can find homes for sale these days. All of my small brokerage's listings are on all the big brokerages websites and visa versa because we all use one data base. Buyers sit in their jammies or at work and cruise listings. If a listing doesn't have a virtual tour they click onto the next property. We Realtors are pretty clever too-us good ones make sure the tours are fantastic so as to entice you to call or email to set up a showing. Basically, it's as if buyers go to the mall to window shop, narrow down their options and then go back later with their wallet to a specific store and purchase something. Think of the Realtor as the salesperson who will be honest with you and help you fine tune your selection, get you the best quality and best priced product, and then give you great service so that you'll come back and shop again. The good salesperson knows that if you don't feel you're getting their full attention and true facts about the product with no B.S. (and especially no 'upselling') you'll move on instantly somewhere else. The salesperson helps educate you about value and pricing so that you can make a purchase within your budget.

The salesperson already knows you've done your research on the web, found deals, read reviews about the market and you could very well know as much about what you're going to buy as the salesperson does!

Buyers rely on Realtors to give them access to their choices and open up other options the buyers may not be aware of or thought of before: from lending ideas to neighborhoods, styles of homes to the fine print of contracts. Also, Realtors still have exclusive rights to sold data, which certainly can help in determining what to offer on a property or how to get a property up for sale by helping to figure out fair market value.

2011

I recently overheard an environmentalist say that Salt Lake City didn't need any more parks because we have enough forest and green spaces within a 20 or 30 minute drive from our fair city that more parks weren't necessary. We really are blessed with a beautiful wild landscape surrounding our valley. On the other hand neighborhood parks do make a lovely place for gatherings, light recreation and relaxation. In the long run, neighborhood parks add a real and intrinsic value to homes. And, if you live in a condo or an apartment building, a park is just a nice place to reconnect with green grass and trees.

The city itself is blessed with three large parks (Liberty, Sugar House and Jordan Park/The International Peace Gardens). and has parts of the 40 mile Jordan River Parkway, along with small and large neighborhood dog parks, tennis courts and ball fields scattered within the street grid.

Liberty Park is not the biggest and oldest public park within our city limits. Sugar House Park (110) acres was created just six years after Brigham arrived here and started as a place to refine sugar beets. The 80 or so acres of Liberty Park were obtained by Brigham Young in 1860. He planted mulberry and cottonwoods trees on what was then called 'Mill Farm', but the name changed over the years to Forest Park and Locust Patch. Salt Lake City bought the acreage from Young in 1881 and renamed it Liberty Park. There are remnants and markers from 100 years ago scattered around the pond there-like a mill stone and The Chase Home as well as some of the original trees.

In the early 1900s Liberty Park displayed a cage of monkeys and people started talking about creating a zoo. In 1912 the Parks Department set up a zoo with a whopping $153 and displayed birds, monkeys and squirrels. Within a few years they had over 100 rabbits, an ostrich and many birds housed in "The Happy Family Building." In 1916 schoolchildren gathered donations of pennies and nickels and helped the city buy an Asian elephant named Princess Alice (after Theodore Roosevelt's daughter, Alice) from a circus. She later had baby pachederms, one being named Prince Utah. Sadly his mother rolled over him and killed him, and local papers reported seeing the mother elephant cry real elephant tears after his death.

In the 1930's Princess Alice kept escaping out of her caged area in the Park and was seen wandering down 700 East wearing clotheslines full of back yard laundry on her back. Duuuuude, the Drum Circle folks on Sundays would have loved that! Neighbors were scared and outraged by the giant escapee, but the Hogle family came to her rescue and donated land as a new home for all the animals where Hogle Zoo is now located. During the depression volunteers sold flowers to help feed the animals and pay the water bills there.

When you read real estate ads you'll often see verbiage like 'close to a park' or 'within walking distance of a neighborhood park.' City parks do add value to all of our lives-from humans to dogs to caged animals and wildlife.

2011

The weather outside is frightful, but buying a home can be delightful in winter. Why, you ask? If the house is on the market during the holidays there's a likelihood the sellers are seriously motivated to move because usually owners will pull their listings until spring due to the holiday chaos. You may get a better deal than in the spring if you buy during the cold season. Even the Utah Association of Realtors has found that home prices generally fall during winter and rise during the spring.

When shopping for homes in December and January, be aware of some of the extra things to look for besides just good prices:

1) It's more cold than warm in Salt Lake City and I think it's especially telling to look at homes when there's snow on the ground. You can feel the cold air blow through the gaps in the windows and doors. When an agent lists 'extra insulation' on a house flyer, you can tell as soon as you walk in the door if it's fact or fiction. Also know there's a trend for buyers and home owners to get energy audits of properties prior to the closing as part of the buyers due diligence/inspection period. (I can tell you in the future an energy audit will be even more common as 'green' loans become more popular). I usually take a lighter or matches with me when showing vacant homes in the winter. I hold up the flame where we feel it's cold and see where the draft is coming from. No, I haven't caught any homes on fire!

2) If you're buying a vacant or foreclosed on property, have your agent check with the listing agent if the home was 'winterized' prior to the cold weather kicking in. Winterizing is a protection process where a contractor or technician goes into the property and drains the pipes and then shuts down the water from the house to the water main. The heat may be shut off (on purpose) or the thermostat set to a low temperature such as 55 degrees. These actions protect the owner from potential pipes freezing in the winter and causing an expensive disaster in the home.

3) You won't be able to test the air conditioning system of a house you're going to purchase in the winter as inspectors will not even look at the cooling systems if it is colder than 45 degrees outside. Murphy's Law would kick in during the summer when you first crank up the central air and it doesn't work, so always negotiate a home warranty that specifically covers air conditioning systems.

4) If it's a snowy winter, it's often hard for inspectors to get up on a roof and determine condition. If you can't see the roof, but the home is good, you can negotiate that the seller escrow the cost of a new roof at closing to be determined once the snow melts. If the roof turns out to be good and have a life of at least five years, the seller would get their funds back. Otherwise, you'd get a new roof in the spring.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS AND HAPPY WINTER HOUSE SHOPPING!

2011

Owning a condominium can be a less expensive way to be a first time homeowner because, well, condos are often less expensive than homes. And folks who have had a big home, raised kids and now are empty nesters often find the condominium lifestyle to be a great 'lock and leave' alternative because there's no yard work, snow removal and exterior maintenance.

All condo projects have a homeowners association made up of the owners in the project. The point of having an association is so that owners can make decisions about their building, like: when should we paint the hallways and replace the carpets? Does the building need a new roof? Should we allow pets? How many units can be used by owners as rentals? It's a fact that most people don't attend their regular homeowners meetings (which can be monthly, bi-monthly or yearly) but they should. Being involved in the Home Owners Association (HOA) can help in keeping costs down for running the building while focusing on keeping the property updated.

Most new condos have fees that include a monthly bill for water, hazard insurance on the exterior of the property, a tiny part of the property taxes for the common areas (halls, parking area), and monthly yard maintenance (lawns, shrubs), garbage removal and sewer. As an example, a condo complex with 30 units will bill each owner through the HOA fees 1/30's of the cost for water, common area property taxes and maintenance/garbage/sewer. The individual owners' monthly utility bills for gas and electric service are metered separately. Some condos also charge for basic cable or wi/fi.

I live in a condo and my monthly HOA bill includes my power, gas, some dumb TV/cable fee (I don't have television), and my percentage of the water/insurance/garbage/sewer bill. IF my condo project had a pool, tennis courts, spa and other bells and whistles my fee would be a lot higher because the maintenance and insurance of these items costs an HOA more each month. American Towers (downtown) has a pool, meeting rooms, racquetball and a roof patio, plus 24/7 security guards at the front desk.

HOA fees do not cover any loss inside your unit if there was a fire, flood or burglary. If the neighbor upstairs overflowed their bathtub and your ceiling fell in, the HOA would most likely pay for your new ceiling. But they wouldn't pay to replace your all white leather sofa or buy you a new cat. Condo owners are encouraged to get 'content' insurance, similar to renters insurance, to protect personal belongings. There are currently 1100 condos for sale on the MLS in the Salt Lake Valley. With interest rates now at 4% or below-what are you waiting for? Go shopping with a Realtor today and see what options you have in your price range!