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Fournier Law Blog

Intelligent legal insight from our team of experienced attorneys.

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Why Would a Real Estate Broker Publish Agent Commissions?

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At the start of September 2019, real estate firm Redfin made a change to the way they communicate with their customers and potential customers.   They have made the decision to provide more information on the homes they have listed for sale, specifically detailing how much the buyer’s agent will make upon the sale of the listed home.

According to an article published by Forbes, “…nearly 40% of recent home buyers don’t understand how their real estate agent was paid,”  while 13% indicated they had “no idea” how much or how the agent was paid upon closing.  With the recent announcement of the Northwest Multiple Listing Service, allowing brokers to share details of the commission deals, Redfin decided to get out in front of the trend sure to spread to other regional areas.

Perhaps buyers have become more interested in the ways commissions are negotiated after a few law suits alleging “….collusion, inflated commissions, and price-fixing, among other things.” To head off any concerns and to satisfy buyer’s desire for transparency, some agents feel that this up-front approach helps ease the minds of their customers.  As one Redfin broker, Paul Reid of Boise, ID,  stated, “Showing consumers the commission a seller is offering a buyer’s agent is a great win for making real estate more transparent. When a buyer has a better understanding of how his agent is being paid and the costs the seller is incurring, he can make a more informed decision on what to offer.”

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How Has the First Time Home Buyer Profile Changed Over Time?

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If asked to describe the profile of the average “first-time home buyer”, many Americans may use descriptions such as young, newly married, young children or children on the way.  There is an idea that many have about who these would-be buyers are, what stage of life they are in and it appears it is an out-of-date perception. 

Researcher at Harvard completed a study of first time home buyers over a span of 20 years, from 1997-2017 and found some significant changes in the demographics of first time home buyers over those years.  In the paper detailing the study findings, it was stated, “While discussions of first-time home buying often tie home ownership entry to life-stage changes like marriage and the birth of a first child, a growing share of first-time home buyers do not fit this profile”.

An article published by The Wire summarizes the most telling comparison of how many first-buyers were unmarried in 1997, which was 23% of all first time home buyers, compared to a 12% increase by the time 2017 rolled around.  That year, 35% of first time home buyers had never been married.  Married home buyers made up 61% of the first time home buyers in 1997, but only 52% of first-time home buyers in 2017 were married. 

What hasn’t changed much in the span of the study, the age of first time home buyers which decreased from 34 to 32 between 1997 and 2017.  The findings reveal facts that, “suggest that there may be a fundamental shift in the way that young households are approaching first-time home purchases, such as an increased willingness to purchase homes individually or with unmarried partners”. 

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Why is the Number of First Time Home Buyers Declining?

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With reports of continued low mortgage rates, many might assume the housing market would be booming with home sales.  However, it would seem that some other economic factors are affecting potential home buyers’ decisions.

The number of adults planning to purchase a home has dropped 2% since last year, and the number of first time home buyers among the groups looking to purchase a home is down 5%, from 63% in 2018 to 58% this year.  According to an article published by CNBC.com, written by Anne Cusak, a lack of affordable home coupled with worries about the economy and personal economic stability are to blame.

According to Rose Quint, the National Association of Home Builders assistant vice president for survey research, “…potential buyers are held back by the lowest levels of affordability in a decade.”  Many first time home buyers are limited in their budget; as home prices increase, they aren’t necessarily able to keep up.  Since the lower end of the real estate market has seen the fastest price increase, these home buyers are being priced out. 

Even if the home prices are within reach and the mortgage rates continue to stay low, prospective buyers are less than eager to jump in when they feel their personal finances are on shaky ground.  Cusak notes, “Buying a home is an incredibly emotional experience, and potential buyers will often pull back when they have the slightest fear of losing their jobs or losing any income.”

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How Do Kids Affect Home Buying Decisions?

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Home buyers take many factors into consideration during their home search.  Price, size, location are a few that top the list for many.  When home buyers have children living at home, the search can get more complicated and additional criteria can narrow the field of prospective homes.

In a recent article published in HousingWire, Alcynna Lloyd details how home buyers with children versus home buyers without children vary in their home buying process.  With a nod to the season of “back to school”, Lloyd references a report from the National Association of Realtors where NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun said. “Of course, affordability is a part of the decision, but we have seen buyers with kids willing to spend a little more in order to land a home in a better school zone or district.” 

Confirming what many assumed to be true, the report details that more than half of home buyers that have children living at home base their search criteria on the neighborhood’s school district.  In comparison, only 10% of home buyers without children take the school district into consideration when making their home purchase. 

Additionally, childless homeowners do not feel as much pressure to sell a home quickly.  Only 14% indicated that when selling a home, speed of sale was an issue.  In contrast, 23% of homeowners with children reported selling their home with a sense of urgency.  Perhaps the timing of a school year approaching, feeling that they have outgrown a home or other financial factors influenced these households.  Nevertheless, they may be more likely to accept an offer that is not ideal.

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Photo Credit: Marco Verch

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Possible Cost Savings for First Time Home Buyers

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Buying a home is expensive, buying a home for the first time is overwhelming and the costs can be surprising and cause some to think twice before signing the papers.  There is good news for first time home buyers; they may be able to save some money when purchasing a home.  Specifically, some may be able to qualify 25 basis-point discount on the FHA mortgage insurance.

The Housing Financial Literacy Act of 2019 passed in the House of Representatives earlier in July.  This bill’s purpose is to encourage first time homeowners to complete a program to educate them on the home buying and home ownership experience in order to promote sustainable homeownership.  Buyers that complete this training could qualify for the discount, but the bill needs to pass the Senate’s vote and move on for presidential approval.

According to an article published by HousingWire.com, although some experts are concerned the discount could have a negative impact the FHA’s insurance fund, many agree that promoting education about home buying and ownership is vital in helping more American’s have a positive homeownership experience. 

“Whether you are managing your credit, creating a budget, saving for retirement, or purchasing a home, understanding the basic principles of planning, saving, and investing for the future is vitally important,” Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-OH, who presented the bill, said. “Studies show that pre-purchase housing counseling equips first-time homebuyers with the much-needed financial skills and tools to make informed financial decisions that ultimately benefit not only their families, but also the surrounding neighborhood and our entire economy.”

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Is Housing Market Ready to Rebound?

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Homeowners trying to or thinking about putting their home on the market may have been a little hesitant based on the trends in the real estate market over the past year.  As real estate professionals know, and homeowners may have noticed, the real estate market took a turn last summer.  An increased number of homes hit the market, but higher prices and decreased sales, the outlook for homeowners was less than ideal.

However, homeowners may be able to breathe a sigh of relief as this slump could be coming to an end.  With mortgage rates dipping below 4 percent and a slowed housing inventory, it appears prices and home sales should begin to climb again.

According to an article published on Realtor.com, written by Clare Trapasso, “…much of the fate of the housing market relies on mortgage interest rates. If they stay low, buyers have more money to spend on homes. So prices have more room to rise.”  However, homeowners should be aware, despite a high demand for homes as younger buyers begin their families and look to settle down, current buyers, Chief Economist Danielle Hale of realtor.com®  warns “seem a little more patient. They’re more willing to wait for a good property.”

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What Challenges to Buyers with Children Face?

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Buying a home can be an overwhelmingly stressful decision.  There are many factors buyers need to take into account when making a final home purchase decision.  Location, size, floor plan, down payments, and mortgage rates are a few that buyers must consider.  The buyer’s budget is another very important factor that must be considered.  It appears, however, that a specific group of buyers is more likely to go over their set budget when purchasing a home.

According to an article published by The M Report, buyers with children seem to have trouble sticking to their budget when purchasing a home.  In fact, 25.6% of buyers with children exceeded their budget when purchasing a home.  This group also had 31% that were denied a mortgage, where buyers without children only saw 11% denied mortgages.

It appears that having children in the home increases the list of demands that buyers make for their homes.  They want shorter commute times to their workplace, which can put them in more desirable and expensive locations.  The size of the home increases as the need for more space to accommodate growing families increases.  Some buyers make sacrifices on these items in order to stay within, or at least closer, to their budget. 

To make matters more stressful for this group of buyers, many decisions on home purchases can be rushed for families as they work to ensure they are settled before the school year begins. 

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Photo Credit: Franco Giovanella

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What Regrets Are Most Common Among New Home Buyers?

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In an article published by TheMReport.com, a study from Zillow revealing some of the top regrets of home buyers are described.  To begin, it seems that younger, and possibly less experienced, home buyers are more likely to feel some sort of remorse after purchasing a house.  In fact, 81% of home owners under 34 years old have some sort of regret. 

The article states, “Zillow notes that the lower level of satisfaction among younger buyers could be due to their inexperience with the home buying process. Additionally, many of these buyers are likely still living in their first home, and 29% of young homeowners regret rushing the process, compared with 12% of older buyers.” Another source of regret for buyers is a higher than desired mortgage rate and the type of mortgage they were able to secure. 

Very few homeowners, however, report wishing they would have simply rented instead of buying.  “The American Dream of homeownership is still alive and well, and younger buyers who are building families and forging their careers must stretch their budgets to achieve it,” said Zillow Director of Economic Research Skylar Olsen.

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How is the New Housing Market Faring So Far in 2019?

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The 2019 real estate market is approaching the halfway point of the year and recent statistics published jointly by the Census Bureau and Department of Housing and Urban Development reveal an interesting mix of ups and downs within the new housing market.  The good news is that new house prices have increased 8.8% from last May.  However, disappointing drops in the sale of new single family homes was also reported, they fell 6.9% 

An article published by Bloomberg, reported by Reade Pikert, offers some explanation behind these conflicting statistics.  A detailed view of the home sales decline reveals that the home that are experiencing the decline in sales are almost all priced below $300,000.  Thus suggesting there is a shortage of “affordable” properties. 

Additionally, sales of existing homes took a dip in April, yet the number of sales of pre-construction properties reached the highest level since 2017.  Pickert indicates, “New-home purchases account for about 10% of the market and are calculated when contracts are signed. They are considered a timelier barometer than purchases of previously-owned homes, which are calculated when contracts close.”

Despite the mixed reviews of the new housing market’s 2019 performance thus far, it seems investors remain optimistic.  The article states, ”A gauge of U.S. homebuilding-industry stocks erased losses after the data and was up about 0.3% despite losses in the broader market, suggesting investors were focusing on the upward revisions to new home sales.”

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Is Zillow’s Co-Marketing Program Illegal?

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Many in the market for a new home look to the web when beginning their search.  Most likely, Zillow.com is one of the site visited by prospective buyers.  Not only can these house hunters view homes for sale in their desired neighborhood, recently they have also been shown advertisement for “premier” agents and brokers.  According to an article published by the Miami Herald, these real estate professionals “ …pay hundreds or thousands of dollars a month in advertising fees to the company. Premier agents need not be the highest volume or most successful agents in their area; they simply need to pay for the label.”

The program then expanded about 6 years ago, and introduced a program allowing agents to share advertising costs by partnering with lenders.  It was a win win for agents, who were able to have much of their advertising cost covered, and lenders, who could get a foot in the door with prospective home buyers.  However, it is now being reviewed to determine if this program violates the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act which “prohibits payment of fees for business referrals among realty, mortgage and title industry providers that are not for services actually rendered”, according to journalist Kenneth R Harney. 

In fact, a judge in the U.S. district court in Seattle determined that, “the court can draw a reasonable inference that Zillow designed the co-marketing program to allow agents to provide referrals to lenders in violation of RESPA.” The class-action lawsuit filed will hear from both whistle blowers alleging violations and certainly Zillow defending its program’s legality.

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