The Truth About Arbitration in Real Estate

If you ever made an offer on a property in California, you have read an Arbitration Clause. This clause only becomes a part of the contract if both buyer and seller agree to it, meaning they both initial the clause in the contract. And more than likely your agent told you to agree to it because “everyone does” or “it’s better than court” or for no reason at all. Well, agreeing to Arbitration may not be the right decision for you. Let me break it down for you.

Before You Get to Arbitration There’s Mediation

If a dispute arises in a real estate transaction over more than $10,000, buyers and sellers in California are required to go to mediation. Mediation is designed for both parties to find a compromise. You may find yourself in a situation where you don’t believe you should compromise. It doesn’t matter — you have to go to mediation. However, as long as you show up to mediation, you have met your contractual obligation. You aren’t required to come to a meeting of the minds. (If the value in question is less than $10,000, you would go to small claims court which is a lot cheaper and expedient.)

Next Step Arbitration

Assuming you have tried Mediation or you showed up for Mediation and promptly left, then your next step is Arbitration if you have agreed to it. Arbitration is voluntary but the decision is binding.

Advantages of Arbitration over Court

1. Your case will be heard faster.
2. The case will be resolved more quickly.
3. It will cost less.

Disadvantages of Arbitration

1. You don’t get a jury trial. If you go to court, your case will be heard by a jury of your peers.
2. There is no appeal process; the decision is binding.
3. Although it’s cheaper than court, you have to pay for it in a shorter amount of time while court & lawyer fees are spread out over
a longer period of time.

When I explain this to my clients, they typically don’t sign the Arbitration clauses. They understand that it’s still an option later on. But if a seller is dead set on it, then it can be agreed to in a counter offer. I will say that I’ve never had an client who’s an attorney that was willing to sign an Arbitration clause. And for that matter, the E&O insurance companies typically don’t want Brokers to sign these clauses in listing agreements, because they want to leave their options open.

It’s always a good idea to ask legal counsel if you are unsure of what to do.

The Truth About Appraisals

Let’s face it, appraisals are one of the scariest parts of a real estate transaction. It can cause a deal to implode very quickly. It’s one of the reasons why having an experienced listing agent on your side is crucial. An agent has to sell a home twice: first to the buyer then to the agent.

My Strategies to Help Overcome Challenging Appraisals:

Appraisal Appointment

I never let an appraiser go to a property unaccompanied. Many appraisers have supra keys; if they think a property is vacant, they will go on their own and then you’ve missed your only opportunity to make an impact on the appraisal. I always meet the appraiser. And I make sure I come armed with recent sales, detailed information about the subject property, and any market stats that may prove helpful.

Engage the Appraiser

It never hurts to engage the appraiser. I’ve often heard complaints that an appraiser wasn’t interested in what the agent had to say. I’ve never had that experience. And I always found that if you position yourself in a supporting role and on the appraiser’s team, they are typically receptive to what you have to say and appreciate the effort you’ve made.

Demonstrate Value

If there’s something special about the property, I make sure I highlight it. Showing value to the appraiser is crucial to their calculations. I have put together shiny marketing materials specifically targeting the appraiser in order to illustrate what makes the house unique and worth the price we have sold it at.

Support Your Price with Other Offers

If you had multiple offers on a property, show those offers to the appraiser to reinforce the sales price. Buyers ultimately set the price and if you have more than one buyer making similar offers, it’s only more proof that your sales price is justifiable.

 

Additional Tips for Appraisals

It’s also good to know the rules that the appraiser needs to adhere to. When doing appraisals, they can use comps as far back as one year. Lenders always want to see a comp at the asking price, a comp below the asking price, and one above the asking price. If you have a challenging property, you may want to consider getting an appraisal done prior to going on the market. It will help prepare you for what to expect and if the appraisal is strong, I share it with the appraiser in the transaction.

Housing Inventory Climbing in Redondo Beach

Over the past few months, we have seen an increase of homes on the market in Redondo Beach. Properties are sitting for a longer amount of time. There aren’t as many buyers clamoring over listings, creating bidding wars. And sellers are accepting offers that a year ago they wouldn’t have looked twice at, including contingent offers. All of these factors reflect the slow down that has been expected and seemed imminent, and quite frankly inevitable.

Increased Housing Inventory – What does It Mean?

There is definitely a change in the air. Buyers are having an attitude adjustment. They aren’t exhibiting the anxiety that was the driving force behind the real estate market these last five years. Now, they seem to be taking their time and are not rushing to make an offer on a property the minute they see it.

This all seems to indicate that we are on a “turn” in the market. We’re shifting from a seller’s market to supposedly a balanced market where neither buyer or seller has the upper hand. Last go round, we skipped the balanced market altogether. We went from the buyer’s market (2010 – 2012) right into a seller’s market. This time I think it will be a slower transition.

Rising interest rates will also contribute to this market slowdown. Buyers may take pause as they adjust to new rates. If the rates climb high enough, it should put downward pressure on pricing as well which should ultimately propel housing inventory even higher.

What does this mean for Buyers and Sellers?

As housing inventory increases and the market becomes more challenging for sellers, it is more crucial than ever that sellers properly prepare their homes for sale. Curb appeal and the emotional reaction from buyers is more important than ever if you don’t want your home to grow stale on the market collecting dust, not offers. Some staging may be necessary. Professional photos are more important than ever. A smart pricing strategy is important in any market, but again more than ever you want to be smart about your marketing strategy. On the other hand, buyers can finally take a deep breath and possibly take back some of the power. They could find themselves in the driver’s seat if properties start to languish on the market.

If this is a true balanced market, then there will be more negotiating and more concessions. Buyers won’t have to go above and beyond to get a deal done, but sellers will still get a fair price for their homes. I will continue to monitor the market and keep you apprised of any more changes in housing inventory and the health of the market.

Buyer’s Inspections: Crucial To Buying A Home

Home inspector pointing out a problem to a buyer's inspections.

The home inspector points out a problem to the buyer during the inspection.

You’ve just got an offer accepted on a home and now the hard work really begins. It’s time for your buyer’s inspections to determine if this really is the right home for you. It would be nice to depend on the seller for all this information. But the fact of the matter is, most sellers can’t recall everything that has happened in their home over the years. And quite often homeowners get used to the funny quirks of their house and don’t even notice them anymore. And sometimes sellers are not aware of issues that exist, and wouldn’t be able to disclose them anyway. Therefore, it’s crucial to hire the right inspectors to assess the home’s condition. Keep in mind, inspectors can’t always find everything. If the roof needs repair and it hasn’t rained in years, the inspector is probably not going to detect it. But if it rained recently and they can detect elevated moisture, then you are on track to discovering a potential needed repair.

The First Step is a Home Inspection

Buyer’s inspections run the gamut. I will provide you with a pretty comprehensive list below, but it’s always important to start with the general home inspection. The home inspector will give you an overview of the home and then indicate where there may be a need for additional inspections or experts. The home inspector will look at the foundation, roof, plumbing, electric, appliances, water fixtures, doors, windows, and general condition. They will report any discrepancies or issues that they see. The home inspector is a generalist however. If they think there is an issue with the roof or some  cracks in the walls look suspect, they will make a note of it and then recommend that you bring in a roofer or foundation inspector, respectively.
When I am working with a buyer, the buyer’s inspections that I always recommend, at the bare minimum, are the home inspection, mold inspection, and termite inspection. As I stated above, the home inspector will give a good general overview of the home. A mold inspector will focus on moisture elevation, water leaks, and well… mold. The mold inspection is so crucial because leaks often occur that no one is aware of. Left unattended, water can lead to wood damage and mold which of course carries health concerns with it.

The termite inspection is also a smart move. As the buyer, you want to know about any dry rot, wood damage, and termite infestation. It’s so much easier to tent a house for fumigation before you move in. Termite repairs, as all repairs, can be negotiated with the seller.

If it’s an older home with mature trees, then I also suggest a sewer line inspection. Quite often tree branches penetrate the sewer line because they are searching for water. They can cause quite a bit of damage and can be costly.

Best Practices for Your Buyer’s Inspections

Schedule your buyer’s inspections on the same day with some overlap in time. You want to be able to speak with each inspector separately, but it’s also a great idea to have the inspectors at the property at the same time so they can share information. I find problem solving more effective when different experts can share their perspectives. Recently, I had a client who was buying a house in the Hollywood Rivieria in Torrance, CA. The inspectors detected a high level of moisture all along the base of an exterior wall within an enclosed patio. Each of the inspectors had a theory on where the moisture was coming from. There was no nearby plumbing and the crawl space underneath the house was dry. Getting to the bottom of this mystery was important in order for my clients to know if it was a singular incident or an ongoing problem that could prove to be expensive to correct. In this instance, we ended up bringing in a water intrusion specialist. He determined that the dark stains on the floor were probably from potted plants that had sat under the windows even before the patio was enclosed eons ago.

Woman watering plants on patio splashing water on ground.

Woman watering plants on her patio can accidentally cause elevated moisture and water damage to structure.

These plants had probably been overwatered causing the dampness and elevated moisture. The deceased owner’s children confirmed this when they disclosed that their mother kept plants under the windows as long as they could remember – even when they were kids and the patio was an outside space.  They also mentioned that they had asked their mom’s aide to stop overwatering the plants only a few weeks prior. Mystery solved! My clients could move forward knowing that there wasn’t a moisture issue to contend with.

Here is a partial list of buyer’s inspections for you to consider when buying your home: General Home Inspection, Wood Destroying Pest Inspection, Mold, Foundation, Sewer Line, Roof, Electrical, Plumbing, Lead Based Paint,  Methane Gas, Asbestos, Pool/Spa, Chimney, Square Footage, Permits, Boundaries, Soils, Radon Gas

Not all inspections will apply to every property and some will only come up if there are red flags on the home inspection. But it’s a good idea to know what type of inspections are available and what information you want to gather when buying a home.

Loan Limits Increased for Fannie Mae Home Financing

Fannie Mae loan limits increase for home buyers in 2017

Loan limits increase for home buyers in 2017!

Conforming loan limits for Fannie Mae have increased for 2017!

With the increase in housing affordability in the real estate market, conforming loan limits have increased for the first time since 2006. Here are the new limits for Fannie Mae loans for 2017 in Los Angeles county:

 

 

Conforming Loan Limits
1 Unit: $424,100
2 Units: $543,000
3 Units: $656,350
4 Units: $815,650

Conforming Loan Limits for High Cost Areas
1 Unit: $636,150
2 Units: $814,500
3 Units: $984,525
4 Units: $1,223,475

What does this mean for home buyers?  Buyers have an opportunity to borrow more money (with a Fannie Mae product) which is good news since home prices have continued to climb since the market began its rebound toward the end of 2012. In fact, for the first time since the Great Recession, the average US home price has returned to pre-market crash levels. With the real estate recovery, the conforming loan limits should continue to have increases on an annual basis.

There is also talk about interest rates increasing over the next year. They have already ticked up above 4% for the first time in a couple of years. For those home buyers who are at their maximum borrowing power already, any additional rate increase could prevent them from getting a loan. And if rates continues to climb, it could have a slow down effect on the market, and ultimately put downward pressure on prices. But for now, for homes priced at $1.5 million and below, the tight inventory and high demand has continued to push prices up.

Real Estate Advice: The Arbitration Clause in the RPA

Buyers signing an arbitration clause in a real estate contract

Signing the residential purchase contract.

To Sign or Not to Sign the Arbitration Clause in the Residential Purchase Contract

The Arbitration Clause in the Residential Purchase Contract (RPA) in Southern California is the only section of the contract that may not be agreed upon by buyer and seller and yet you still have a fully executed contract. Most buyers’ agents tell their clients to sign this clause without fully understanding it, and without fully explaining it.

The Arbitration Clause comes into effect if buyer and seller have a dispute, and mediation does not work. Mediation is compulsory, but not binding. This mean that if there’s a dispute between buyer and seller, they must go to Mediation. However if they don’t like the result, they don’t have to adhere to it. Arbitration, on the other hand, is voluntary but the decision is binding. There is no jury in an Arbitration, and you can’t appeal a decision. The upsides are that it’s much faster and much less expensive than going to court.

What a lot of agents don’t tell their clients is that you don’t have to agree to Arbitration at the time you sign the offer. Both parties can always decide to go to Arbitration at a later date even if the clause is not signed. In fact, my broker, RE/MAX Estate Properties has been instructed by our E&O insurance company not to sign the Arbitration Clause in a listing agreement for this very reason. The E&O company wants the flexibility to decide at a later date if there’s a dispute between the Broker and a seller.

Many agents go on auto-pilot when it comes time to sign the contract. They see a blank line for a signature and they assume it needs a signature. Make sure to ask your agent more questions. Ultimately the decision is up to you, but your agent should be giving you the information to help you make these decisions.

Big Change in California’s Real Estate Purchase Contract

Tenting a home for fumigation can cost a couple thousand dollars depending on the home’s cubic feet.

In southern California where the majority of Realtors use CAR’s residential purchase agreement to make an offer, there have been a number of changes to the contract for 2015.  (CAR = California Association of Realtors).

One of the biggest changes – which could potentially restructure how buyers and sellers negotiate – is the removal of the WPA form. WPA stands for Wood Destroying Pest Inspection. It’s basically the form buyers includes with their offer that stipulates that sellers will pay for a termite report as well as any Section 1 items identified on that report. Section 1 items must be fixed prior to the close of escrow (lender requirements) and usually include termite infestation and dry rot among other things. These two are usually the big ticket items. And although these points are negotiable (as is everything in the contract), it was standard practice for sellers to pay for Section 1 items. This was handled up front with the offer. Sellers accepted the fact that this was a standard expense to selling a home. Then when buyers come back with a Request for Repairs, all repairs would be over and above the termite work.

But in 2015, the WPA has been eliminated. Potentially, buyers can still request termite work up front in the offer. And this will probably happen for some time to come. Eventually, however, the process will evolve and termite work will become part of the negotiations for repairs.

The biggest impact from this change is that sellers won’t automatically feel it’s their responsibility to do the termite work, i.e. tent their home for infestation, replace rotted wood with fresh wood. And sellers can simply say they won’t do the work. Of course, they will be more apt to do the work in a buyers’ market and probably less willing in a sellers’ market. These can be expensive repairs and buyers may have to get used to incurring this expense as time goes on.

 

Buyers Pay for Pretty

It’s the homes that are all dolled up that sell for the most money. I see it time and again. In this market, buyers are flocking to the properties that are plug and play, meaning they don’t need to do any work. There’s an emotional tug that comes with new floors, custom paint, crown moldings, tastefully remodeled bedrooms and baths. Note to seller: if you’re looking for a higher price, you may want to consider some smart upgrades. For many of my listings, I’ve encouraged my clients to do some minor remodeling. If for every dollar they put in,  they can get back $3-4, then it’s worth the effort. It may even be worth it if you can double your investment.Case in point, 1918 Farrell Avenue in Redondo Beach came on the market this week. It immediately got a tremendous amount of traffic. This home was purchased at the end of 2012 (just before the crazy growth) for $661,000. The new owners remodeled the home and re-listed it now (3 years later) for $925,000. And it will probably sell for more. For one, there is still very little inventory out there. Two, this house looks all shiny and new. It’s a quality remodel, the owners definitely improved on the house… and they didn’t have to change the footprint at all. Buyers walked through this home and got a warm and fuzzy feeling. By the end of the weekend, there were multiple offers and although the offer prices were not made public knowledge, I can safely assume that they are at least at the asking price, if not higher.

Note to Buyers, if you want a deal, if you have to buy the ugly house. Or maybe I should say, the ugly duckling. Because with some work, it can be just as pretty, but you probably didn’t have to pay as much money. Now, in crazy seller’s markets, you usually have to pay a premium on everything, but we’ve slowed down a little now in the Southern California. There are homes in Hermosa, Redondo and Manhattan Beach that are staying on the market longer. There could be deals to be had, but you have to be willing to pick up a hammer or pay someone to do it for you.

 

 

Other ways to compete in an offer other than price

When making your strongest offer on a property, there are other things to consider other than price.

First, you should know what’s important to the seller. Maybe the seller has some specific needs that not every buyer can meet. But if you can craft you offer to meet their needs at the beginning, you stand a better chance of getting your offer accepted.

Second, there are plenty of terms in the purchase contract, making may different opportunities to make your offer stand out from the rest.

Escrow Period
You can shorten your escrow period, making it a quick transaction.

Contingencies
You can shorten or eliminate contingencies. Contingencies are a buyer’s “outs”. You can cancel the contract based on several contingencies including a loan contingency, appraisal contingency, investigations contingency, preliminary title contingency, and so on. If you are making an aggressive offer and you suspect you will be paying more than market value, you may want to consider eliminating your appraisal contingency. In this way, the seller doesn’t have to be afraid that the home won’t appraise and you will walk away from the deal. Of course, you have to be prepared to come out-or-pocket for the additional cost.
You can shorten the time period for your investigations and other contingencies.

Seller’s Closing Costs
In a buyer’s market, sellers are often more apt to pay for some of the buyers’ closing costs. Well in a sellers market, a buyer can do the same thing. If you pick up some of the seller’s expenses, you increase their bottom line, making your offer stronger. Sometimes a buyer is not even able to increase the purchase price due loan restrictions, but if he has extra cash, he can pay for some closing costs and possibly win the bidding war.

Termite Work
You don’t need to ask the seller to do termite work. A buyer can take this on themselves at their own discretion. It’s a good idea, however, to still get the termite report in order to determine how much work is needed and what it will cost.

The list can go and, and I’m happy to go over your options with you.

Last, it’s always a good idea to impress upon the seller that you are a motivated buyer to will move quickly with the intent to close. By preparing a complete offer package with all financials, by putting your lender in contact with the listing agent, by giving the seller as much information as possible, and responding in a timely manner will assure the seller that you will be a good partner in the transaction.

Which Inspections Should I Do When Buying a Home?

In a typical real estate transaction in southern California, the buyer has 17 days to do all their due diligence. This includes hiring inspectors to evaluate the condition of the home. Here are some of the inspections that you can consider doing:

Home Inspection
This is the bread & butter of inspections. Everyone should have a home inspection. This is a generalist who will assess the following: foundation, roof, plumbing, electrical, appliances. This inspector is not a specialist in any of these areas, but will be able to tell you the general condition of these items and point out any safety concerns and recommended upgrading. The home inspector will recommend you seek an expert in any of these areas if there is some concern about the condition of these items. For instance, if the inspector sees droppings in the attic, he will recommend a termite inspection. If the inspector, sees moisture under a sink, he will recommend a plumber for further investigation. But often,  a buyer can base his Request for Repairs on the home inspection report. Keep in mind, that not all home inspectors are created equal. Make sure you use an inspector who is licensed and bonded. Also, it’s a good idea to use someone that either your agent or friend/family member has had experience with.

Mold Inspection
Mold inspections are not done as regularly as home inspections. But they should be! I always insist that my clients get a mold inspection. Water is a homeowner’s worst enemy and often water damage can go undetected, wreaking havoc behind the scenes. A good mold inspector helps give you a more well-rounded picture of your soon to be new home. And often it can save you from walking into some nightmarish repairs.

Video Sewer Line Inspection
If you want to know the condition of your sewer line, you can have a plumber or sewer line specialist come to the property and put a video camera into the sewer line. You will be able to see if there are any blockages in the line or possibly even tree roots that are impeding the sewer line. I usually recommend this to people who are buying older homes with mature trees on the property.

Roof Inspection
If you have any questions about the condition of the roof that your home inspector can’t answer or if your home inspector recommends further investigation by a roofer, it’s a good idea to bring someone out who can quote you the cost of a new roof or needed repairs. Often, you can get a roofer to come out for a free estimate.

Foundation Inspection
If you are concerned with some visible cracks or the home inspector thinks there could be some foundation issues, it can be a good idea to hire a foundation inspector. I think it’s helpful to find a foundation inspector who’s also a structural engineer.

Geologic Inspection
Depending on where this house is located, a geologic inspection is something you may want to consider. If there’s concern with the soil or condition of the land, this can be a worthy investment. Areas like Malibu would be a good place to do a geologic inspection.

Termite Inspection
Normally, the seller will pay for a termite inspection. This report will show signs of termite damage, termite infestation, and dry rot. Keep in mind, when a Wood Destroying Pest Addendum is included in a contract, the lender will require that all termite work be done prior to funding the loan. Typically, a seller will agree to pay for these items. It’s just a matter of coordinating the work prior to escrow closing.

These represent a good number of inspections that you can do as a buyer. Basically, if you have any questions or concerns, you can always bring in an expert for further evaluation. The money you spend on inspections can add up, but it’s a good insurance policy against purchasing a home that will be a money pit of repairs.