« December 2007 | Main | March 2008 »

January 25, 2008

Misleading home buyers: Conflict of Interest? What conflict of interest?

Sameoffice1 Thankfully, a recent NYTimes article, Feeling Misled on Home Price, Buyers Sue Agent and an interview hours ago on Today on MSNBC, are beginning to shed light on deceptive real estate practices.  However, the article doesn't expose widespread conflicts of interest that contributed to the real estate bubble and their growing cost to society. 

1.  For starters, look more closely at this misleading statement:

"As prices spiked, buyer's agents and brokers became popular as sounding boards, advisers and negotiators. The National Association of Realtors estimates they are now involved in two-thirds of all residential purchases."

That makes this the first housing collapse in which large numbers of buyers had a real estate professional explicitly looking after their interests."

My guess is that one in five * transactions or about a million sales of existing homes during 2006 involved "designated agents" or some other name that papers over the conflict of interest that occurs when buyer and seller are represented by the same brokerage firm. (* In some markets, the ratio could be considerably higher.)

2.  The means that home buyers do not receive proper advice and protection, or as a partner in a real estate agency told the NYTimes:

"We have seen so much misrepresentation over the last five years," he said. "So I appreciate where these buyers might be coming from: 'I'm a lowly consumer, you're certified by the state of California, you didn't do X, you didn't do Y, and I got hurt.' "

3. The NYTimes speculates that consumers, angry that their counterfeit buyer agents did not provide adequate advice and protection, will increasingly take legal action. Will their collection actions rise, at some point in some overvalued market, to a class action lawsuit? 

"The Ummels may be on the leading edge of the law, but they are unlikely to be alone for long. With the market falling, many homeowners owe more on their mortgages than their houses are worth. And many of those deals involved brokers who are required to carry professional liability insurance, presenting a tempting target for angry buyers.

'If you put someone into a property at the top of the market, you look really bad if it goes down,' said K. P. Dean Harper, a real estate lawyer in Walnut Creek, Calif. 'There are a lot of letters going out from lawyers to real estate agents saying, 'My client would never have purchased if you had properly evaluated the market conditions and the value of the property.' "

Represent_3 4.  A series of "Dual Agency Detective" blog posts dating back three years predicted "a new era of heart break for real estate consumers."  Although it's easy to poked fun at designated agency with political cartoons, the cost to individual home buyers and society, as this prophetic case attests, is no laughing matter:

My so-called buyer's agent (who promptly switched roles at contract signing without explanation), initially advised me to bid $750,000 for my house of choice, which was listed at $699,900. When I told her that such an offer was beyond my price range, she was quite adamant that I not offer anything under the list price. When I finally backed out the deal because of her bait and switch scam, I later heard that the house in question sold shortly afterwards for $682,000--in other words, nearly $70,000 less than the bid suggested by my so-called buyer agent.

This type of price inflation (caused by seller's agents masquerading as buyer's representatives) must have a very distorting impact on housing costs.  The economic fallout is enormous: ordinary citizens are forced to move out farther in search of decent, affordable places to live, which  leads to a host of problems connected with traffic congrestion, suburban sprawl, etc.

As I perceive it, the real estate cartel's use of dual agency [a.k.a. "designated agency"], which works to the detriment of the average consumer while enriching dishonest agents through the practice of double-dipping, contributes significantly to the manifold problems we see in the residential housing market and therefore should be fully exposed.

Yourfanniemaybenext_2 5.  Who will end up paying the cost?  Commenting on the mortgage package included in the tax rebate agreement announced by Congress and the President, a link on BostonBubble reads: "Profits privatized, risks socialized - Economic stimulus a wealth transfer from the middle class to the rich and the reckless." See Paper Money's blog post for call to action.

Conflict of interest, what conflict of interest?

PS.  The NYTimes may not have gone far enough, but the story (once, the most forwarded story in the NYTimes) is echoing around the blogosphere.  Some in the industry are worried this may be "the tip of the iceberg," and the buyers told MSNBC's Today show they want to change the industry.  Sounds like the Consumer Revolution we've sought over the past 15 years.

04:23 PM in Defensive Homebuying, Dual Agency Detective, In the News, Real Estate Bubble, Real Estate Consumer Bill of Rights, RECALL: Real Estate Consumer Alliance | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

January 19, 2008

Unlisted properties represent opportunity for proactive home buyers

Mainventorypie_011008v6 This graph of active listings versus unlisted properties during the 4th quarter of 2007 reveals two significant trends behind today's lead story in The Boston Globe: 

"Thousands in Mass. foreclosed on in '07:
7,563 homes were seized, nearly 3 times the '06 rate

TREND 1: The Globe reported that "...lenders initiated foreclosure proceedings against 7,467 Massachusetts homeowners" between July and September.  That means that foreclosure petitions during the 3rd quarter of 2007 were nearly equal to the total number of actual foreclosures year round.  Add that trend to the fact that foreclosure petitions topped 3,000 listings during October 2007, and you can see that the problem is growing.  In fact, the number of foreclosure petitions in October approached the number of MLS sales in December 2007 as graphed in a previous blog post.

TREND 2:  The inventory of unlisted properties or homes for "potentially for sale" across Massachusetts is also growing.  It's difficult to identify how many expired and canceled listings have been already been relisted in the MLS, and we can only guess at how many homeowners facing foreclosure would be willing to sell.  Still, the inventory of homes "potentially for sale" may be approaching the number of active listings during this slow time of the year, as shown in the graph above. 

Should you wait for more homes to come onto the market or be more proactive?  The Real Estate Cafe is exploring ways to help home buyers search expired and canceled listings, and to approach homeowners with "unlisted" properties - particularly those who have received foreclosure petitions - with unsolicited offers.  If you're a homeowner willing to consider an unsolicited offer, or rent your unlisted property until you put it back on the market later this year, please contact us.  Our qualified buyers are looking for ways to negotiate sales outside the MLS, and recognize that savings can be shared by doing so.  (PS.  Our menu of hourly and flat fees are modest by industry standards; and depending on negotiations, may be paid by our buyer clients so sellers retain more of their home equity.)

02:12 PM in Commission Reform, Do-it-yourself, Extreme Househunting, Foreclosures, FSBO: Best Practices, Savings & Rebates, Timing the market, Unbundling the Commission | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 18, 2008

Rebate Wish List: Home buyers, what would you do with a tax rebate PLUS a real estate rebate?

Wishsign Pull quotes from: Bush backs $145 billion economic plan

The president and Congress are scrambling to take action as fears mount that a severe housing slump and painful credit crisis could cause people to close their wallets and businesses to put a lid on hiring, throwing the nation into its first recession since 2001.

Economists said a reasonable range for tax cuts in the new package might be $500 to $1,000. Congressional aides said the White House plan is looking at rebates of up to $800 for individuals and $1,600 for married couples..."

"Americans can spend this money as they see fit: to help meet their monthly bills, cover higher costs at the gas pump, pay for other basic necessities," he said."

General discussion on Boston.com: Would you spend a tax rebate? Specific questions for home buyers:

1. What would you do with the proposed tax rebate? Would the rebate, plus declining interest rates, make any difference in your home buying plans for 2008?

2. If you added a 100% commission rebate from The Real Estate Cafe, typically 2.5% of a home's sales price, would that influence your home buying plans for 2008? What would be on your Rebate Wish List?

3. If you received a rebate over $10,000, would you be willing to donate part of your rebate to a cause or charity? If so, please add your favorite to The Real Estate Cafe's "Rebate-It-Forward" list.

RebateWishList.com currently forwards to a twin discussion on The Real Estate Cafe's experimental new social networking site.  Comments are welcome on either site, and home buyers are invited to introduce themselves via our interactive map.

03:17 PM in In the News, Real Estate Bubble, Savings & Rebates, Timing the market | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

January 11, 2008

NOW, what do you think will happen to housing prices in 2008 & beyond?

Please take a few minutes to update this survey of housing price expectations in Massachusetts after a week of negative housing headlines. This survey is being conducted independently by The Real Estate Cafe but we are eager to share the results with the press.

CLICK HERE, not photo below, to start survey:  What do YOU think will happen to housing prices in 2008 & beyond?


04:11 PM in Bubble Hour, Consumer surveys, Housing forecasts, In the News, Market trends, Price trends, Real Estate Bubble | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 08, 2008

Expired & canceled listings soar in MA as Petitions to Foreclose approach MLS sales


SURVEY: NOW, what do YOU think will happen to housing prices in 2008 & beyond?

11:24 PM in Foreclosures, Market trends, Real Estate Bubble | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Best money-savings tools & trends for home buyers in 2008?

Followthemoney The Real Estate Cafe's "Booth Sleuth" is eager to attend the leading real estate technology conference in New York this week so we can identify the latest tools and trends to help clients save money.  To raise funds, we're repeating the "fare sale" we offered in November 2007.  If you think you'll be using our services anytime in 2008, we encourage you to prepay for them now so you can enjoy savings of up to 50%.  More details upon request.

If you're looking to develop a new product or service to help real estate consumers save time and / or money, we're also willing to conduct sponsored research at the conference.  For examples of our work, see Twitter posts and "Live Notes" from last real estate conference on The Real Estate Cafe's public wiki.  Confidential inventory of Web 2.0 applications in real estate also available.

01:37 AM in Change Agents, Counterintelligence, FSBO: Best Practices, RECALL: Real Estate Consumer Alliance, Savings & Rebates, Tech Trends | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 04, 2008

Thousands of MLS page views over 2 to 4 years: Will Bubble-wary buyers extend wait thru 2008?

1000pageviews_010308v1Temperatures in Boston are approached zero yesterday which, regrettably for this fee-for-service real estate consultant, was about the level of client billable activity over the Holidays.  But that doesn't mean that The Real Estate Cafe's "do-it-yourself" home buyers aren't busy house hunting; to the contrary, 36 of them have looked at over 1,000 MLS pages online.  As shown on the graph above, house hunts of 2,000 to 6,000 MLS page views stretching two to fours years are not uncommon.

Can you imagine how long it would take to drive by that many properties, particularly in this frigid weather?  That's why The Real Estate Cafe offers two MLS access systems, one which includes thousands of expired listings plus another map-based search with links to Zillow estimates. 

That's also why we're eager to invite new and long-time home buyers to network online and off in 2008. Regardless of whether you're a member of our "1,000 click club" graphed above, please join one or more of the subgroups on The Real Estate Cafe's new experimental social networking web site and exchange market insights with other clients -- particularly if you're in a long-term holding pattern

Our survey of housing prices in Greater Boston includes a few questions about potential educational and networking events, like our "Bubble Hour."  Please let us know what interests you and where you think housing prices are headed in 2008 and beyond.

09:10 AM in Do-it-yourself, Extreme Househunting, Housing forecasts, Real Estate Bubble, Timing the market | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 03, 2008

Web 2.0 makeover in progress @ RealEstateCafe.com

Added this note to The Real Estate Cafe's original (increasingly obsolete) Web 1.0 site.  Still trying to decide which content management system (CMS) to integrate fragmented Web 2.0 pieces below.  Any feedback on SquareSpace.com or other recommendations for a user-friendly CMS?

UPDATE: January 3, 2008: Web 2.0 makeover in progress. Please watch our blog, social networking sites (RealEstateCafe & ChangeAgents), public and private wikis, fund raising campaigns (community commission & ASAP), and award-winning interactive real estate bubble maps.  Our latest map, St. Joe 2.0, invites real estate consumers, particularly those with expired listings, to reinvent a misguided spiritual practice (see one minute video).  Watch for our ice cream van turned mobile podcasting studio in 2008.

12:04 PM in Inside The Real Estate Cafe | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack