Safety Alert for Licensees!

 Posted by at 3:57 pm
Aug 222017
 

I’ve taken the liberty of reprinting this safety alert published by the Maine Association of REALTORS as it seemed worthy of receiving as much distribution as practical. You can’t be too careful!

Safety Alert!

Please be extra cautious of any inquiries you receive from a Ted Butler (tedbutler22@hotmail.com or 207.745.9939). MAR has received notification from numerous female REALTORS that this person is inquiring about properties in the Merrymeeting and MidCoast areas of Maine claiming to be a cash buyer and looking for waterfront properties, accessible only by boat. After an initial contact, sometimes accompanied by a woman, his communications become lewd and forceful. He has continued to contact the REALTORS via email and cell phone.

Yes – call the police. Please contact the Maine State Police, your county Sheriff’s department, or local law enforcement if you have had any interactions with this person/couple or any other suspicious interactions. Ted Butler may have already changed his name and contact information – and moved on to another area of Maine.

A best practice reminder for REALTOR safety: Always schedule first meetings with new clients/leads in the office, verify their identity by taking a photo of their driver’s license (state that it’s office policy), and introduce them to a colleague…”


Please share this with your colleagues!

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Jun 142017
 

“There’s no such thing as bad publicity,” is often attributed to P.T. Barnum although there’s no hard evidence he said it. There’s no doubt, however, that he was a self-promoter extraordinaire. An interesting discussion is available for those engaged in the practice of real estate brokerage–how much self-promotion of ourselves should we be doing versus promoting properties?

During one of those discussions with a student, he was quite adamant that whether we are promoting properties or ourselves, we should be using every available means at our disposal–it’s a fiduciary duty to our clients! His twist was “There’s no such thing as bad advertising.” My tongue was only slightly in my cheek when I told him that I hoped he was taping his business card on the wall of every public bathroom he used since business cards are cheap and a lot of people would see them.

Seth Godin, in a recent blog post, notes that marketing used to be done with care and caution, but now that getting attention (publicity) is easy and cheap, we are “like a troop of gorillas arguing over the last banana.” For those unfamiliar, the gorilla reference relates to a series of books by Jay Levinson on “Guerilla Marketing.” The premise behind the popular book series was that small businesses could compete by adopting unconventional methods of promotion. For an effective program, you didn’t need a huge budget, you just needed to have imagination, energy and time.

But you also needed to think because guerilla marketing works best when it’s targeted. Just because you can tape your business card on the walls of public bathrooms doesn’t mean you should.

Guerilla marketing is creative and fun, but it is still about building your image in a strategic manner–not just doing the quick and easy. Let me give you one example that is a personal annoyance.

Technology now makes it very easy to email information to diverse audiences and lots of people. All you need is a mailing list, right? And best of all, email is free! (That’s actually not true, but it’s a different discussion.) So a lot of folks started playing the numbers game. Some guy in Nigeria figured out that if he sent out enough emails suggesting he needed help getting his family fortune moved to the United States, some small number of people would perhaps be willing to help him.

So, yes, it does work. It works really well for the short term. But for every willing victim, there are thousands–perhaps hundreds of thousands–of people who are simply annoyed by his constant badgering and desire to take advantage of people. (Robo-calls fall into the same category when you think about it.)

For those who are using technology–email and social media–as a vehicle for promotion, it might be wise to consider the full impact of what you’re doing. I don’t maintain counts, but every week I receive at least a dozen or so “ads” from real estate licensees. These range from announcements of open houses to brochures that tie up my server because they are megabytes in size.  Some are for properties over 100 miles away. But that’s not what really bothers me.

What really bothers me is how many of these emails are in direct violation of federal law. You might find it mildly interesting that the term”CAN SPAM” is an acronym for “Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography And Marketing.” So sending unsolicited email is considered an assault–I can relate to the term while I delete them from my inbox.  What might be more interesting is that if your marketing and advertising program includes assaulting people with email, you’re risking a $16,000 fine by the FTC for each email you send that violates the act.

We can debate the effectiveness of the act, but it is law and many people are at least mildly aware of it. So consider that sending email that does not comply is also advertising your willingness to violate the law. It’s actually not a hard law to comply with, so do a little research:

  • National Association of REALTORS® offers a number of articles and resources
  • HubSpot offers a short list of do’s and don’ts along with some FAQs
  • FTC (Federal Trade Commission) offers a compliance guide for small businesses
  • Comm100 provides some detail and unintentional entertainment by using the word “complaint” repeatedly when they mean “compliant” — an interesting error for a company specializing in communication!

What are you telling your prospects unintentionally? This really isn’t just about the law. If you find receiving SPAM annoying, you might not want to send it! And if you don’t find it annoying, remember that a lot of people do! That’s one reason the law was passed. You might just distinguish yourself by doing it right.

 

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Feb 282017
 

Dagnabbit! I can’t make things work!

Imagine your buyer client calling you in panic or frustration because the lights in their new home keep going on and off… the garage door is opening by itself… and the thermostat refuses to affect the temperature of the house. Would your first instinct be to suspect the house is haunted? (Bonus point available–that’s called a stigmatized property. Is that a required disclosure in Maine?)

Well, there might just be another explanation and an item for you to add to your closing checklist. (You do have one, right?)  Here’s a link to a recent article in USA Today reporting how “As the Internet of Things finds itself into houses via connected devices, more and more homes contain hot new tech gadgets that can all too easily become unlocked digital backdoors.”

In non-technical language, if the seller forgets to reprogram his smartphone, he could end up opening the garage door of the home he sold.

Speaking of closing checklists,  the article includes a link to a one-page “smarthome checklist” created by the Online Trust Alliance. It’s not exactly free of technical terms but is definitely worth a look. Sorry if it makes your head hurt! Those with kids have access to technical support with this language and these devices.

Seriously, there are some potential issues here to think about–including what electronics “go with the house” and what programming changes need to happen when a property changes hands.

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Feb 242017
 

One of the challenges we face in real estate courses is making certain our content is current. Come to think of it, that’s a challenge for real estate licensees as well!

There’s an old story claiming that someone once asked Albert Einstein for his phone number and he had to look it up. He supposedly remarked that “an intelligent person doesn’t store information, he knows where to find it.” That makes some sense and carries with it the importance of knowing what we don’t know so we do not give out false information. Einstein had the confidence required to admit he didn’t know the answer to what many would consider a fairly simple question.

So if I asked some number of licensees (particularly those who recently completed the sales agent or associate broker course about the Maine Nonresident Withholding Tax on real estate sales, I suspect many would give an incorrect answer because some rates changed for 2017. When Ben Franklin opined that “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes,” he didn’t mean the amount would be certain–just the existence.

You’d be correct (well, nearly) if you cited the default calculation as 2.5% of the purchase price. “Nearly” is added because the withholding only applies if the sales price is $50,000 or more.

You might also remember there are some alternative calculations and that each requires a waiver from the Maine Department of Revenue. One of those calculations is based on a “small profit.” Those are the rates that have changed for 2017. With a waiver, the seller may be allowed to have the smaller of the two amounts (2.5% of the purchase price, 10.15% of the profit for residential) withheld.

If you think this is starting to get complicated, you get a sticker. Like Einstein, you may be concluding the best answer to the question “How much is the Maine Nonresident Withholding?” is “We’d better look it up.” Actually, an even better answer is “We’d better consult a tax specialist.” (If your client doesn’t have an accountant or tax advisor, like Einstein this might involve a phone book or its Internet equivalent.)

From an estimating point of view, the safe calculation is the default calculation of 2.5% of the sales price. After all, that is the most the seller will have withheld. If your client is a “do-it-yourself” type you can offer him or her the link to the Maine Revenue Services Website. It’s a very user-friendly place with lots of information and all the forms one may need. (Forms and information use the abbreviation REW-Real Estate Withholding.) Note that any request for a reduction in withholding must be made at least five days before closing.

While there’s no minimum on how helpful we should be with our clients, there may be some limitations when it comes to the amount of knowledge we have–particularly in areas such as taxes that extend beyond our area of expertise. Personally, I think a client who is a nonresident of Maine needs to know he or she may be facing at 2.5% withholding from proceeds at closing. We can and should also explain that there are alternative calculations, waivers, and exemptions and these should be discussed with a tax professional well before closing. In the interest of accuracy, perhaps “the less said, the better.”

Another option might be to provide all nonresident sellers with the Notification to Sellers of Withholding Requirement–it could become part of your listing packet and be included on your listing checklist.

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Feb 112017
 

Knox-Lincoln Soil & Water Conservation District is sponsoring Maine Forest Service District Forester Morten Moesswilde for a free evening talk, “Stumped About Tree Growth? Understanding Maine’s Tree Growth Tax Law,” at Rockland City Hall on Thursday, Feb 16 from 6:30 to 8:30 pm. This program is free and open to the public. No pre-registration is required – just show up!

Moesswilde will provide details about the why’s and how’s of Maine’s Tree Growth Property Tax program, which provides eligible woodland owners with reduced property tax valuations if they commit to managing the land long-term for forest products.

The Tree Growth program has broad participation from small to medium-sized woodland owners across midcoast Maine and beyond, yet sometimes generates misconceptions and misinformation about what it actually involves. With an annual deadline of April 1 for new enrollees and some re-certifying parcels, landowners who are considering enrolling, or who are already enrolled and need to find out more, should find this program helpful in understanding their options and responsibilities under Tree Growth.

Moesswilde will present the basic provisions and requirements of Tree Growth, and allow time for questions and discussion of specific situations. In addition, he will discuss further resources available for landowners including free “walk and talks” on their land with a Maine Forest Service (MFS) District Forester; assistance with woodland planning; and publications on a variety of topics – as well as additional upcoming workshops. The Maine Forest Service is part of the maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry, and provides numerous resources, assistance, and presentations about trees and forests in Maine, including owning, enjoying, planning for, and, where desired, harvesting forest products on woodlands.

For more information, contact Knox-Lincoln SWCD at 596-2040, hildy@knox-lincoln.org or MFS District Forester Morten Moesswilde at 441-2895, morten.moesswilde@maine.gov

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Oct 252016
 

tax-1351881_1280Licensees may not be tax accountants or qualified to provide tax advice, but that doesn’t mean we can’t share resources with our clients. The United States Department of Agriculture recently released Tax Tips for Forest Landowners for the 2016 Tax Year. I’ll confess that reading it (it’s only two pages) made my eyes glaze over, but if the only thing it accomplishes is sending your client to a tax advisor, that’s probably a good thing!

A few years ago I had my small woodlot cut and would have reported the income as “ordinary income” if I hadn’t used a tax advisor. The tax savings was significant. It’s important to “know what you don’t know.”

Licensees could post this link on their website or Facebook Page or send it directly to those on your mailing list who own forest land. Obviously, you won’t be able to answer questions, but folks may appreciate the information you can provide!

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Oct 022015
 

panic_button_400_clr_2667Many will recognize the title of this post as a line delivered often by Henny Penny in a folk tale that by some estimates has been around for more than twenty-five centuries. As with most stories that old, there are various endings–some happy, some not so happy for Henny as she and her friends get eaten by a fox. The moral therefore has several twists, but the commonalities are usually around the theme of having some courage and not believing everything you hear. We might also conclude, rightfully, that hysteria is often contagious.

TRID (TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure rule) is coming this weekend. Actually, it’s been coming for a long time. Now it’s finally arriving.

There has been a certain amount of “The Sky is Falling” hysteria surrounding the implementation TRID. This is evidenced by some of the dire warnings that licensees should expect problems, add extra time to their closing windows, etc.

Personally, I think it may rain for a while, but the sky will not likely fall. Why? For one thing, the changes aren’t really that massive. However, any change that impacts an entire industry (real estate, lending, legal/closing) will surely create some temporary disruption. Learning curves are real, but their steepness often depends on the learner. The changes didn’t come as a surprise. I suspect some lenders are well prepared and will find the change relatively smooth. One thing that will help those lenders is for the other parties to become informed and stay calm.

The CFPB (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau) has actually created a “Real Estate Professional’s Guide” on their website that might be very reassuring, particularly if you accept the idea that we most greatly fear the unknown. Did you know, for example, there are only three changes that will trigger a new three-day review period? (And one of those three has existed for quite some time–it’s not new.)

I’m not suggesting it wouldn’t be a good idea to prepare customers and clients for the change. In fact, educating your buyers about the “new” process will streamline the steps between pending and purchase–as it always has. I’m less certain that we need to start adding days and weeks to closing. We still need to focus on our clients’ needs. Another thing that hasn’t changed is the reality that the length of time required to close is still dependent on the capability of each and all of the involved parties: borrowers, licensees, lenders, title companies, attorneys, etc.

In at least one version of the tale, the panic starts when an acorn falls on Henny Penny’s head and she mistakenly concludes it’s the sky that is falling. The implementation of TRID will be an acorn for those licensees who do not panic, become informed, and facilitate keeping their client’s transactions on track. If it helps, you can give yourself the nickname “Ducky Lucky” and be like a duck: be calm on the outside while you’re paddling fast beneath the water.

 

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Aug 302015
 

anxious_scared_figure_400_clr_8434According to a recent study by Redfin, buyer’s worries have changed slightly. Of course, that makes sense because we all know the market changes constantly. Last year (2014) buyers were most worried about inventory. This year “prices” are in the number one spot. Actually, the worry seems to be more about prices rising and affordability becoming an issue.

Some will suggest that reflects an improving market with good news for sellers. Others will suggest it buyers are showing a lack of confidence in the general economy.

According to the survey of 3,500 buyers, the top five worries this year are:

  1. Prices (prices are rising or too high)
  2. Competition from other buyers
  3. Inventory (there aren’t enough houses to choose from)
  4. Selling my current home first
  5. Having enough for a downpayment

You might find it interesting to compare that with the top five worries last year. It will not take too much creativity to support your current opinion of the state of the market and the direction it’s taking. But you’ll have to rationalize some things. For example, the fourth worry of buyers last year was that mortgage rates might rise before they could buy–that didn’t make the list this year. Another concern last year that didn’t make the list for 2015 was “fatigue” — referring to buyers finding the process difficult and tiring.

Most know that all generalities are false. In this case, that’s especially true because “worries” are very personal. So while how those 3500 people felt is mildly interesting, real estate licensees should be much more focused on a much smaller number–the number of clients you are working with.

You want to know a lot about your client. Most of those things are basic and concrete. The questions you ask probably include things like, “What is your price range?” and “How many bedrooms?” and “How much land?”

Those are certainly important conversations. But why not ask “What are you worried about?” Some will say, “Nothing,” partly because they are overwhelmed with excitement and haven’t thought about the concerns. It might be tempting to accept that answer. But aren’t there some things a buyer should be worried about?

One of the saddest listings I ever took involved a couple in the middle of a divorce. The short version of their story was they visited Maine and fell in love with our great state. They spent the last few days of their vacation finding a real estate licensee and then a house. It was a very smooth and speedy transaction–their agent handled “everything” while they went home to pack. The realities started showing up after they were settled in their new home. One spouse was forced to return to their home state to find employment that wasn’t available in the vacation area they’d bought. The other found work, but it involved a long commute with resulting childcare and expense issues. Thus began the breakdown of the family. The home they purchased was not an “easy sell” so by the time they realized their mistake, the market was not in their favor.

A little “worrying” during the process might have made a world of difference in the outcome. Personally, I think the licensee who represented them in the purchase should have noticed there were some things they weren’t worried about and raised some of the issues they weren’t seeing.

Of course, licensees also find themselves representing worriers. Folks in the real estate business like to focus on “making it easy” and “getting to closing.” If that’s the case, remember that it’s easier to smooth the road if you locate the bumps and potholes. No matter how you cut it, a discussion of worries with clients (buyer or seller) just makes sense.

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