3 Web tools that can make an agent’s job easier

While everyone is wild about apps these days, some of the most useful tools for your real estate business continue to be ordinary websites. In fact, many older sites are still rich with resources to make your job easier.

Here are three resources that can help you with your business.

Monsterdaata.com is an old site that has a wealth of resources on it from the California Association of Realtors. While much of the data on this site hasn’t been kept completely up to date (e.g., the census data is based on the 2000 census), there are numerous resources that are still quite useful. Here are three examples:

1. Helpful newsletters
If you’re looking for resources to answer questions for your buyers or sellers, there are plenty of articles here that can help you. For example, if a buyer asks about the wisdom of getting an adjustable-rate mortgage vs. a fixed-rate mortgage, there is a series of useful articles on financing provided by HomeResponder.com that answers this question in detail.

2. Buyer information
Monsterdaata.com also has a number of short online videos that can be used when you are working with buyers. While most of these are so short that they’re not very useful, one excellent buyer video explains how to choose the best area in which to purchase. This video addresses what is important in terms of selecting a location in simple, concise terms that are easy to understand.

3. The dangers of overpricing
One of the toughest obstacles listing agents face is persuading sellers to be realistic about their asking price. In many cases, the classic seller comeback to this issue is, "We want to test the market." Monsterdaata.com has two very short videos that can deliver a one-two punch to help you persuade the seller to avoid testing the market. While you could tell the seller this yourself, it’s much more powerful if the resource is online.

The first of these two videos walks the sellers through the consequences of what happens when they overprice their listing. The second video, the "Time-Price Relationship," references what is sometimes known as the "honeymoon chart." The honeymoon chart refers to the fact that your sellers will get most of their showings during the first three weeks they are listed. Once you show these two videos explaining this concept, use the following script to close them on listing at the right price:

"Mr. and Mrs. Seller, most people who list their home don’t realize that they will have the greatest number of showings when they first list their property. The reason for this is that all of the current buyers who haven’t been able to find a property will generally look at new listings during the first two or three weeks that they are listed. After this so-called honeymoon period, the showings drop off dramatically because your showings will be limited to new buyers coming into the marketplace."

Moving 101
An excellent way to assist your buyers and sellers is to give them a comprehensive list of moving tips. A site called MoveCentral.com provides visitors with free moving planning services. Visitors to the site can obtain competitive bids on their moves, get discounts on thousands of moving-related products and services, as well as getting great tips on packing, changing their utilities, and shipping their vehicles.

MoveCentral.com is also a great resource for making up your own moving tips list to share with your clients. For your older clients who may not be as Web-savvy, you can print out many of these resources to share. For your younger clients who like to do their own research, give them the links as well as a brief explanation of what each site contains.

Create a customer satisfaction survey with Wufoo.com
One of the best ways to build your Web ranking and to have repeat business is to put together a customer satisfaction survey that you give to your clients when they close their transaction. A site called Wufoo.com allows you to create landing pages for your website or blog. You can create up to three different landing pages, three reports on those landing pages, with up to 100 responses per month at no charge. It’s the simplest way ever to get feedback and to build your online presence at the same time. Visit the site’s examples page to see how this process works.

While the newsletters and most of the static information on these sites will display on smartphones and iPads, the videos are older technology and will not play on your Apple mobile devices.

While mobile apps are definitely the flavor of the month, don’t forget the plain old vanilla website resources that can help you turn your leads into signed business.

Bernice Ross, CEO of RealEstateCoach.com, is a national speaker, trainer and author of the National Association of Realtors’ No. 1 best-seller, "Real Estate Dough: Your Recipe for Real Estate Success." Hear Bernice’s five-minute daily real estate show, just named "new and notable" by iTunes, at www.RealEstateCoachRadio.com. You can contact her at Bernice@RealEstateCoach.com or @BRoss on Twitter.

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3 homebuying musts that are often overlooked

Last week, we drew inspiration from the late Stephen R. Covey’s pivotal work, "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People," drawing parallels about highly effective homebuyers and the habits, traits and perspectives buyers should adopt to find and buy a home that is both functional for their families and sustainable for their finances over the long term.

This week, let’s return to Covey’s framework and explore the last three habits of highly effective homebuyers:

Habit No. 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. The sheer size and import, length and complexity of a homebuying transaction can make it easy to fixate on "me, me, me!" before, during and after the transaction. We want everyone from the mortgage company to the agents to the sellers and the inspectors to pay attention to us, understand our priorities and limitations, and behave in a way that furthers our interests.

The far better practice is to follow Covey’s charge and seek to understand the moving parts and priorities and guidelines involved in the exercise of buying a home before we seek to make others understand our side of things. Understand the current mortgage lending climate, lending guidelines and the reasoning behind them before you get outraged because you think the lender is placing overly tight limits on your mortgage approval.

Get educated about the market, in detail, and what you can realistically expect to get for the money, before you go out trying to convince sellers to slash big chunks of cash off their price for you.

Seek to understand the approaches and strengths of the various agents you’re considering working with, via referrals and their online presence, before you try to force one to do things your way.

Seek to understand as much as you can about the seller’s constraints, timeline, motivations and priorities, before you try to get them onto your page.

When you seek to first to understand, you empower yourself to do things that ultimately further your own interests, like paying down debt to boost your mortgage approval amount, or pulling the comparables to justify your offer price to the seller.

Habit No. 6: Synergize. Synergy is an ideal that takes the aim of a win-win negotiation to the next level, requiring that you shift the way you see the other people and parties involved in your transaction. It recommends an outlook that says some or all of the other people involved — the seller, inspectors, lenders, agents, etc. — are potentially your collaborators and not necessarily your opponents. This is about looking for the win-win, but also about enlisting everyone else to look for it and work toward it with you.

Habit No. 7: Sharpen the saw. In Covey’s system, sharpening the saw is a mandate to keep our skills sharp, in the realm of the physical, social, mental and spiritual. The parallel for effective homeowners requires a continued commitment to:

  • stay educated as the hyperlocal dynamics of your neighborhood market evolve;
  • diligently read all your documents, all the way through, no matter how many offers you submit or escrows fall apart, including the inspection reports and homeowners association (HOA) disclosures (which I know can be very laborious to wade through);
  • consistently and persistently ask the follow-up questions you have, to any and everything, until you understand; and to
  • constantly revisit the issue of whether your decisions are moving you closer to or further from the holistic "after" lifestyle you had in mind when you decided to buy, avoiding overextending your finances, no matter how much you love a given home.

This is less about skill-building and more about recognizing the reality that the experience of buying a home can take many months, even years on today’s market. Sharpening the saw, as an effective homebuyer, involves staying sharp and focused in your evaluation of information and your decision-making for as long as it takes.

Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Tara is also the Consumer Ambassador and Educator for real estate listings search site Trulia.com. Ask her a real estate question online or visit her website, www.rethinkrealestate.com.


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Staid Connecticut mansion hosted wild parties: $10.95M

Click here to view the full photo gallery.

Location: Sharon, Conn.
Price: $10,950,000
The Skinny: Given its location in sleepy northwestern Connecticut and the staid architecture, it might be hard to imagine that this columned mansion once hosted wild parties attended by society playboys and Barbizon girls. Completed in 1906 by an heir to the Colgate toothpaste fortune for the modern equivalent of $43 million, the estate known as Filston remained in the Colgate family until, by 1938, it had passed to Romanian expat Edgar Ausnit, who escaped the Nazis and brought his massive fortune (derived from the steel and munitions industries) to this sleepy corner of Connecticut.

Ausnit partied with stars like Cary Grant and many of Manhattan’s then-plentiful playboys, but apparently kept the home in good order. After Ausnit’s death, the stunning mansion was sold and by 1976 belonged to songwriter Paul Leka. Leka’s widow currently has the nine-bedroom, eight-bath mansion on the market for $10.95 million, a price that includes more than 100 acres, eight fireplaces, a six-stall English barn, and unbelievable historic details.

Sources: Sotheby’s, Big Old Houses

View the original item at Curbed.com: This Glossy Historic Estate Once Saw Some Wild Parties by Rob Bear.

More from Curbed.com’s House of the Day:

Copyright 2012 Curbed.com

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Keep your ‘friends’ close

As a consumer, I love Amazon. I do not consider it a callous middleman doing something evil to me. Just the opposite. Amazon delivers for free very quickly what I want — from paper towels to e-books and much more — at a fair price without taxes.

As a digital publisher, I kinda like Amazon (notice not love) because it delivers customers for my e-books. But the e-commerce giant gives me half a customer, meaning I do not get the customer data, and Amazon takes about 50 percent of what the reader buys.

Will this friction go away? No. Is Amazon an important partner? Absolutely. We work hard to keep up to speed on new developments and try to find ways to make our authors more successful on Amazon — it is critical to their and to our success.

Does its market dominance set Amazon up to be its own publisher? Yes, it is already publishing its own e-books. It has the power. That is a fact we must all live with.

When I was moderating the panel at Real Estate Connect in San Francisco about listings syndication, it was obvious that this same schism persists between content owner and consumer preferences in real estate.

With comprehensive listings, killer traffic and strong consumer tools, the big online triad — Realtor.com, Trulia and Zillow ("RTZ") — is focused, rightly, on the public’s real estate experience. For that, they keep the consumer engaged and they capture as much customer information as they can.

But they depend on the home listings that brokers, MLSs and Realtors provide. RTZ knows that fact so it shares some of the customer data with its partners, and they drive leads to industry partners. Unlike Amazon, they do not take a percentage of the transaction that Realtors earn from their customers.

And for now, they are not using their platforms to build their own real estate companies like Amazon opening a publishing house. Furthermore, there is no near monopoly in online real estate like in e-books. Three great online real estate companies are competing fiercely for market share and for industry love — giving smart brokers and agents leverage.

That is why the RTZ triad yielded to industry demands in recent months about issues such as data quality and listing broker/agent promotion — representing some proof that brokers and Realtors still have an important say in this dynamic marketplace.

How should Realtors and brokers think about this situation, going into the future?

RTZ is not a threat to your core business, delivering one-on-one services to consumers. You own the customer, so focus on getting better at delivering superior consumer services, not fighting the distribution partners.

Protests, such as withholding listings, are not smart. Instead, work with RTZ to get more of what you need and to shape their product road map — get their horde of engineers working on your behalf.

Tilting at windmills got Don Quixote nowhere.

Bradley Inman is an Internet entrepreneur and founder of several online and offline companies, including Inman News, HomeGain.com, TurnHere.com and Vook, an enhanced e-book publishing company.

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Decorating details that make a difference

Editor’s note: The following item is republished with permission of houzz.com. See the original article: Small Details Make a Big Statement.

When designing a home, the big decisions usually stress us out the most. Should we tear that wall down? Is this the best flooring for the entire house? Will that sofa be the right statement piece for the entryway?

But little things can have a big impact, too. From cabinet pulls to accessories, details can make or break a space. Here are three small touches that deserve to be celebrated.

Think detail

Take a look at this space. What do you notice first? What makes the biggest impact?

modern kitchen by Chr DAUER Architects

Photo credit: Chr DAUER Architects

I love the flooring, the open spaces and those perfectly white walls, but the little bottles lined up like soldiers really strike me too. A simple collection displayed en masse makes a statement about the homeowners’ personalities and injects the room with life.


For Danish homeowners, refinancing is bliss

Editor’s note: This is the third in a three-part series. See Part 1 and Part 2.

The first two articles in this series indicated that there was no quick way to replace Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac without seriously disrupting the market. An expansion of portfolio lending by depository lenders cannot fill the void, and revival of the private secondary market that collapsed during the crisis is neither feasible nor desirable.

The best available option is a slow fix where existing mortgage banks and perhaps other firms converted to Danish-style mortgage banks, with temporary assistance from Fannie and Freddie. This would create a robust secondary market in which mortgage banks retain full liability for every security they issue — as opposed to the fair-weather market we had before in which the firms issuing securities took their money from investors and washed their hands of further involvement.

This article considers the favorable features of the Danish-style secondary market for mortgage borrowers.

Direct linkage between the primary and secondary markets

In the U.S. system, the primary market where loans are made to borrowers is separated by time and process from the secondary market where the loans are eventually funded permanently. For example, a loan closed by a small ("correspondent") lender is sold to a larger wholesale lender who sells it to an investment bank who places it in a new mortgage security. Months may pass between the date when the loan is closed and the date when the loan becomes collateral for a security.

In the Danish model, in contrast, there are no transfers of ownership, because each individual borrower is funded directly by the secondary market. The mortgage bank sells the mortgage directly to investors simply by adding it to an open bond issue covering the same type of mortgage. If the new loan is a 5 percent, 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM), for example, it is added to the outstanding bond secured by 5 percent, 30-year FRMs.

Reflecting these differences in the relationship between primary and secondary markets, borrowers in the U.S. face far more challenges in shopping for mortgages than borrowers in Denmark.

Borrowers in the U.S. don’t have access to secondary market prices, and if they did, it would do them no good because there would be no way to use it. They are on their own in dealing with loan originators, many of which use a variety of tricks of the trade to extract as much from them as possible.

In Denmark, borrowers can price their loan by accessing secondary market prices online. They enter the type of mortgage they want and the interest rate, and find the corresponding bond selling for the highest price. The prices of all Danish mortgage bonds are shown on the NASDAQ website, www.nasdaqomxnordic.com/bonds/denmark. (Alternatively, they can go to a broker or loan officer who is paid by the lender selected, who has access to the same bond data with consumer-friendly add-ons.) The borrower pays the bond price plus a 0.5 percent rate add-on by the lending bank, plus some out-of-pocket fees that are set competitively.

Refinancing options

When market interest rates drop, borrowers in both the U.S. and Denmark can refinance at par to lower their interest rate. When market interest rates rise, however, only borrowers in Denmark can refinance at the lower market price. Borrowers in the U.S. must pay off their old loan at par.

For example, Doe has a $200,000 balance on his 5 percent mortgage, and he expects to sell his house for $250,000 in a market in which homebuyers pay 5 percent. But before he can sell, market rates jump from 5 percent to 7.5 percent, and potential buyers can now afford to pay only $200,000, wiping out Doe’s home equity.

However, because of the rate increase, the market price of Doe’s 5 percent mortgage has dropped from 100 to 85. If Doe is a Dane, before selling his home, he can refinance into a 7.5 percent loan by paying $170,000 to retire his old loan; by so doing, he retains three-fifths of his equity. If Doe is from the U.S., his entire equity is wiped out.

Given the already substantial depletion of home equity in the U.S., the need to reduce the further losses that will occur when interest rates begin their inevitable ascent is compelling.

The writer is professor of finance emeritus at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Comments and questions can be left at www.mtgprofessor.com.

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Price your house to sell quickly

A first-quarter survey of homebuyers and sellers done by HomeGain.com, a real estate services website, revealed that 76 percent of homeowners believe their home is worth more than the list price recommended by their real estate agent.

Homebuyers usually have a better grasp of current market value in the area where they’re looking to buy than do sellers who own and live there. Buyers look at a lot of new listings. They make offers, know what sells quickly and for how much, and what doesn’t and why. HomeGain reported that homebuyers still think sellers are overpricing their homes.

Your home is worth what a buyer will pay for it given current market conditions. This may not be the same as your opinion of what your home will sell for, or what you hope it’s worth. Relying on emotion rather than logic when selecting a list price can lead to disappointing results.

The prime opportunity for selling a home is when it’s new on the market. This is when it is most marketable. Buyers wait for the new listings. Usually, listings receive the most showings and have the busiest open houses during the first couple of weeks they are on the market.

This is the opportunity to show your house off to advantage with a list price that attracts buyers’ attention. Listings that sell today are priced right for the market. Buyers need to feel comfortable that they are getting a good deal.

Buyers won’t overpay if they feel home prices are still declining, and in some areas of the country, they still are. In areas of strong sales, buyers may shy away from multiple-offer situations if they feel the recovery is fragile and that prices may slide further before stabilizing. Even in areas where home sales have been strong in the first half of 2012, local practitioners wonder how long the uptick will last.

HOUSE HUNTING TIP: When selecting a list price, it helps to understand how real estate agents and appraisers establish an expected selling price or price range for your home. They research the recent listing inventory for homes similar to yours that sold. The most recent sales give the best indication of the direction of the market.

They analyze these comparable sales giving more value to your home for attributes that it has that the comparables don’t, like a remodeled kitchen. Value is subtracted from your home for features it lacks when compared to the sold comparables, like an easily accessible, level backyard.

It’s difficult for sellers to step back and take an attitude of detached interest in their home. But it’s essential to do so if you want to sell successfully in this market. For example, your home could actually sell for less, not more, than a comparable sale because you added a swimming pool in an area where most homebuyers would rather have a yard with a generous lawn.

If the comparable sale information suggests that the value of homes like yours is declining, select a list price that undercuts the competition to drive buyers — and hopefully offers — to your home. You can take a more aggressive stance on pricing if the comparables show that prices are moving up.

If there is high demand for homes like yours, you may receive more than one offer. But don’t list too high. It’s better to stay in the range shown by the comparables and expose the house to the market before accepting offers. The market will drive the price up if it’s warranted.

THE CLOSING: Don’t rely on rumors circulating in the neighborhood about how high a home sold. Prices tend to get inflated when passed from one person to another. Select your list price based on hard facts.

Dian Hymer, a real estate broker with more than 30 years’ experience, is a nationally syndicated real estate columnist and author of "House Hunting: The Take-Along Workbook for Home Buyers" and "Starting Out, The Complete Home Buyer’s Guide."

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Austin Realtors revamp consumer real estate search site

The Texas-based Austin Board of Realtors (ABoR) has revamped its consumer-facing property search site, AustinHomeSearch.com, adding new search and mapping capabilities.

The site is powered by real estate technology company Real Estate Digital and includes more than 20,000 active listings from ABoR’s more than 8,500 members. A new property search feature allows users to search for properties based on city, county, ZIP code, area, subdivision and region without dropdown menus.

The site’s map search now also includes an option for aerial views of available properties. The site also contains detailed neighborhood information, a mortgage calculator and enhanced Realtor profiles, ABoR said.

"Rather than competing with member websites, this portal ensures that consumer traffic goes back to the brokers and agents," said John Hensley, chief product and technology officer of Real Estate Digital, in a statement.

In June, ABoR’s board of directors rejected a controversial proposal from a group of Austin Realtors that it change its Internet Data Exchange (IDX) policy to require prominent display of listing agents in favor of an IDX policy that mirrors that of the National Association of Realtors.

Screen shot of AustinHomeSearch.com 

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Why mortgage rates are rising

Two things this week: Explain the sudden rise in Treasury and mortgage rates, and then provide a simple tool for understanding budget issues in the election. Nuthin’ to it.

In the last two weeks the 10-year T-note has run up from 1.45 percent to 1.85 percent, taking many mortgages from below 3.5 percent to above 3.75 percent.

Explanations offered by sharpies: The economy has turned for the better, no longer sliding toward recession. Or because the Fed will not soon begin QE3, either because the economy is better, or because it won’t do any good, or because of the election, or because of internal politics. Or rates have risen because Europe might save itself.

Put all that eyewash in a bucket. Then dump the bucket. July’s 0.8 percent upwobble in retail sales is not a "turn" — not with the Philly and N.Y. Feds’ indices sinking, not with the National Federation of Independent Business optimism index returning to recession threshold, not with eurozone gross domestic product (GDP) going negative, and not with China verging on distress. The Fed may not act now, but inflation is tipping again below the Fed’s target, and a solid majority at the Fed does not want to risk deflation or a run-up in long-term rates.

When there is no "fundamental" economic explanation, look to "technical" — chart patterns reflecting the emotional condition of the herd. For nine months prior to April, the 10-year traded 2 percent (mortgages 4 percent to 4.25 percent). Then 10s fell in a straight line to 1.5 percent, wandered at 1.6 percent in June, and then spent July in the 1.4s. At yields like these, nobody makes money on the rate; you make money when bond prices rise (yields falling more). A month with no buyers to take prices higher, and a few in the herd begin to take profits, then many, and so prices will fall (rates rising) until low enough that they can rise again. Tens might go all the way back to 2 percent, might stop here, but rates are not going all the way back down until something ugly happens.

From that complexity to something simple: the budget. (Note: In the long run, the yield on 10s and the budget are linked. Heh-heh.)

Democrats say the Republicans are cruel, want to rob the poor to benefit the rich, and that Medicare and Social Security will be fine if rich people pay more taxes. Republicans say the nation is broke, Democrats will never stop spending and taxing, and besides, we’ve got ours. Each party offers to play a shell game with no pea.

We have to pay money for all the social goodies, and yet have to pay a social cost if we cut the goodies. Today we borrow 41 cents of every dollar we spend, and we spend $80 billion each day. Something has to give, but what?

Any time you hear a politician’s pitch this fall, here’s the pea to put under all the shells: What’s the politician’s proposal as a percent of GDP?

Since World War II, federal spending has run about 20 percent of GDP, and revenue about 18 percent, a perpetual but modest deficit … until the Great Recession.

Spending is now 24 percent of GDP, and revenue 15 percent. The revenue decline is partly the result of the recession; reversal of the Bush tax cuts would not get revenue past 17 percent of GDP. That recession shortfall is the reason recovery is so desperately important.

Rather worse, social-goody spending will take total spending over 30 percent of GDP in the next decade, health care doing 85 percent of the damage. Worse yet, our borrowing ability will be tapped out in a very few years. At the current pace … two years. If that. Then markets will pull our plug.

Many of my friends on the Left are soaked in European tax-rate propaganda, 35 percent to 50 percent of GDP, but are blind to nationalized healthcare, railroads and so on, all requiring higher taxes and spending, and with intractable deficits.

Republicans envisage a dinky government, 18 percent of GDP, but are utterly dishonest about the social cost, and are resistant to deep cuts in defense. Democrats refuse to consider any upward limit on GDP, or a budget deficit smaller than 3 percent of GDP.

The Bowles-Simpson "Co-Chairs Proposal" caps spending at 22 percent, eventually 21 percent, and raises revenue to 21 percent. Please read it.

Mr. Politician, don’t tell me what’s wrong with the other guy’s deal. Please do tell me what you want to do, and your GDP metric, and consequences. Then compromise.

Lou Barnes is a mortgage broker and nationally syndicated columnist based in Boulder, Colo. He can be reached at lbarnes@pmglending.com.

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Trulia files for $75M IPO

Online real estate search and marketing company Trulia Inc. today publicly filed for an initial public offering of shares in the company worth up to $75 million. Trulia’s move follows in the footsteps of competitor Zillow, which filed for an IPO a year ago, raising $75.7 million, and today has a market capitalization rate of $1.09 billion.

Trulia’s filing of an S-1 registration statement with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission comes on the heels of news reports that Trulia had quietly filed for an IPO with the SEC at the end of July under the provisions of a new law, the U.S. Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act, that allows emerging companies with less than $1 billion in revenue to file confidentially. That’s an attractive option for some companies, Reuters reported, because the filing can be withdrawn without publicizing it if regulatory issues come up.

Companies filing for an IPO are subject to an SEC ban discussing themselves while in registration to go public, usually for a period of 40 to 90 days after the filing of an IPO. Trulia spokesman Ken Shuman declined to comment for this story, saying "we are in a quiet period and can’t comment on the filing."

Trulia became the second most visited real estate website in June, jumping two positions from its long-held No. 4 spot and bumping down Realtor.com and Yahoo Real Estate in the process, according to Web rankings from metrics firm Experian Hitwise. Zillow has held the No. 1 spot since March, and both Zillow and Trulia retained their spots in July.

In the registration statement, Trulia noted that its database includes more than 110 million properties, including 4.5 million homes for sale and rent. Trulia also offers information on local schools, crime and neighborhood amenities, as well as more than 5 million unique user contributions from consumers, local experts and real estate professionals.

Trulia, which has 462 full-time employees, is based in San Francisco and also has offices in Denver and New York City.

While Trulia proposed $75 million as a maximum offering price in its S-1 registration statement, that is an estimate used solely to calculate a registration fee. Trulia could raise considerably more than that amount. 

The regulatory filing sheds light on the company’s growth since its founding in 2005. Between 2007 and 2011, Trulia’s revenue grew from $1.7 million to $38.5 million — a compounded annual growth rate of about 119 percent, the company said. In the six months ended June 30, 2012, Trulia generated $29 million in revenue and had a net loss of $7.6 million, up from $6.2 million in all of 2011 and $3.8 million in all of 2010.

Among the risk factors cited in the filing, Trulia noted its history of losses: "We have not been profitable on a quarterly or annual basis since we were founded, and as of June 30, 2012, we had an accumulated deficit of $43.8 million." 

Rival Zillow had racked up $78.7 million in losses when it filed for its IPO last year. The company first declared profitability in the second quarter of 2011, in its first financial report after going public. In this year’s second quarter, Zillow announced a 75 percent year-over-year increase in total revenue to $27.8 million and a net income of $1.3 million.

Monthly unique visitors to Trulia.com rose from 5 million in the six months through June 30, 2009, to 22 million in the six months through June 30, 2012. Citing comScore data, the filing noted that "a significant portion of our visitors do not visit our primary competitors’ websites. For instance, according to comScore, during each month in 2011 and in each of the six months ended June 30, 2012, more than 50 percent of our audience did not visit Zillow.com."

Trulia’s paid subscribers jumped from 2,398 as of June 30, 2009, to 21,544 as of June 30, 2012. The company has been deriving an increasing share of its revenue from subscription products sold to real estate professionals. Subscriptions accounted for 32 percent, 47 percent, 58 percent and 68 percent of Trulia’s revenue in 2009, 2010, 2011, and the six months ended June 30, 2012, respectively, the company said in the filing.

"We believe our subscription products provide compelling value and a better return on investment than other marketing channels. On average, paying subscribers receive more than five times the number of monthly leads compared to real estate professionals who only use our free products," the filing said.

Trulia said in the filing that its audience was "highly motivated and ready to purchase homes," citing surveys conducted between November 2011 and May 2012 in which 76 percent of more than 290,000 respondents contacting real estate professionals through their marketplace indicated that they were planning to move in the next six months, and in which almost half of more than 210,000 respondents stated that they were prequalified for a mortgage.

Subscriptions have been edging out display advertising as a source of revenue for the company, accounting for 32 percent of Trulia’s revenue in the six months ended June 30, 2012 compared with 68 percent of revenue in 2009. Trulia’s subscription products include Trulia Pro, Trulia Local Ads and Trulia Mobile Ads. Trulia debuted Trulia Mobile Ads in May as a mobile advertising platform designed to connect real estate professionals with likely homebuyers.

The company offers subscriptions lasting from one to 12 months with most subscribers choosing a period of less than 12 months, the filing said.

Trulia has made a concerted effort to ramp up its mobile traffic through the introduction of several consumer-facing mobile applications for iPhone, iPad, Kindle and Android devices in recent years. Mobile traffic accounted for 14 percent and 20 percent of Trulia’s overall traffic in 2011 and the six months ended June 30, 2012, respectively.

"In the six months ended June 30, 2012, we had over 4.3 million mobile monthly unique visitors, an increase of 176 percent over the same period in 2011. In addition, our mobile users are more likely than our Web users to contact real estate professionals through our marketplace," the filing said.

The filing notes that Trulia’s future goals include expanding its audience, increasing user engagement, growing the number of real estate professionals in its marketplace (currently about 360,000), increasing revenue, increasing brand awareness, expanding to adjacent markets such as rentals, mortgages, home improvement and agent tools, and to expand its business internationally. 

Trulia proposed "TRLA" as its New York Stock Exchange symbol. The company began shuffling management in preparation for an IPO in February 2011, and in December hired two executives with experience at publicly traded companies.

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3 secrets to getting buyers off the fence

John Klemish is the "$2 billion man."

It’s my nickname for Klemish ever since I met him earlier this year while researching my column on golf course communities. I decided to slap that appellation on him when I learned that in the course of his almost 30 years in the business Klemish estimates he has sold more than $2 billion worth of single-family residential properties.

That’s a lot of hustling, especially for a guy who majored in leisure studies at college and whose first job was teaching croquet on Useppa Island, just off the western coast of Florida.

We’re not talking about major office buildings or apartment complexes. That’s $2 billion worth of homes and home sites, which makes the total a significant accomplishment. That’s why I decided to interview him a second time in a matter of months, this time getting him to talk about the tricks of the trade, or what one has to do to sell so many single-family properties.

What makes Klemish different from most real estate agents is that he’s a specialist. He has never worked for one of the large brokerage companies like Keller Williams or Century 21. His very first real estate employ was with a resort community, and he has remained in the field ever since.

From 1983 through 2000, he worked at three Florida recreational community developments and then took a job at The Greenbrier, an iconic West Virginia resort, from 2000 to 2005. For the four years afterward, he worked at Caribbean resort developments. Then he decided to retire from the business, buying a home in the tony resort island of St. Barts.

Retirement didn’t last long, because businessman Jim Justice, the new owner of The Greenbrier, called him in 2009 and asked if he would like to take over sales at the resort’s single-family developments. And that’s where I first sat down with him — between rounds of golf.

The secret to successfully selling real estate has little to do with actual selling techniques, Klemish said. It has more to do with such intangibles as individual presentation and establishing connections.

"The key thing when selling recreational real estate," Klemish said, "is the buyers have to like you. No one will buy anything from you if they don’t like you, trust you and have confidence in you. And you get there by being friendly, engaging, but most importantly listening to find out their needs and wants. You have to listen to their answers, without cutting them off, because they will eventually tell you what they want and what they can afford."

In actuality, getting the buyer to like you begins way, way before the first meet and greet.

"This is how I live my life," Klemish said. "I get up a dawn and work out. I eat a good breakfast and then dress extremely nice. So, the first thing is to be ready for work, meaning up, showered, dressed, fresh, eager and looking good. Appearance is very important if you are going to get face to face with someone, because people size you up in a blink of an eye. Before they talk to you or hear you, they look at you."

When the potential buyer does talk to you, you have to be ready. As Klemish said, "You have to know everything about everything about the property, the land, the house, which way it faces, where the sun rises, if a golf ball will hit the house, which way the water flows, etc."

Secondly, you don’t sell. Buyers like to buy, but they don’t want to be sold anything. Klemish takes an extra step, by telling potential purchasers on their first round together, "We are not buying anything today."

The idea is to take the pressure off the encounter, informing the buyers they are not going to be on some high-pressure tour of a property. The buyers are just going to be taking a look around.

And what if someone does want to buy that first day? Klemish often tells them to think it over and come back the next day. Sound insane? Not really. "In real estate there is a rescission period and it is worse to lose a deal than not have one at all," he said. "I want to make sure they are 100 percent committed."

Thirdly, in the market for second homes, which are what most recreational properties are, one has to sell the spouse. "The husband may be the ultimate payer, but the wife has the ultimate veto power," Klemish said. "If you are simply going to talk to the husband and ignore the wife, there will be no sale."

If the whole family is visiting, Klemish also makes sure the kids are actively occupied. At recreational and resort properties there is always something exciting for kids to do whether it’s swimming, fishing or horseback riding. "You want everyone to be engaged," Klemish said. "You want everyone in the family to love the property."

As to tricks of the trade, Klemish has just one.

"I always take out a map of the property and write on it, because no one will remember anything you say," he stresses. "If I’m pointing out that a particular home was sold for a particular amount, I’m indicating the price on the map. I’m also writing down things like carrying costs, because much like a boat or a plane, it is not how much it costs but how much it costs to carry.

"I’ll write down other things like taxes, insurance, utility and maintenance costs. In order for someone to buy, they need to know the answers that they can refer to later. Remember, the first time out with me they are not going to buy."

He added, "I’m also listening and watching. If I say a home is $2 million, their body language will tell me if that’s too much money. I may ask them if they have another second home. If the answer is yes — in Nantucket, the Hamptons or Tuscany — then I know how much they can afford to spend. I’m also asking things such as how many bedrooms they will need, (and whether) they want to be on the golf course or in the mountains."

Klemish tries to keep the initial tour to just one hour. "Should they say to me, ‘We want to see more,’ that’s a great sign," he noted. "The worst client is the one that said, ‘How long will this take?’ My answer is always the same, ‘I’ve already seen the property — this is about you, not about me. We’ll go for as long as you want.’"

Klemish’s first deal in 1983 was a residential lot on Useppa Island priced at $200,000. His most recent transaction came this summer, a house at The Greenbrier for $1.95 million. He’s still selling — or not! — and he still chats with his first and last buyers. They like him, trust him, buy a house from him and stay friends.

Steve Bergsman is a freelance writer in Arizona and author of several books. His latest book, "Growing Up Levittown: In a Time of Conformity, Controversy and Cultural Crisis," is now available for sale on Amazon.com.

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3 hot home-design trends

At San Francisco’s annual Pacific Coast Builders Conference in June, which is always chock full of new products and ideas, a group of architects and other home design experts discussed what’s new and hot in home design trends.

Some of it represents a bit of a departure from past years, and if you’re thinking of building or you’re planning on a remodel — either for yourself or to make things more attractive for a potential buyer — these trends might offer some valuable insights to help with your planning.

Garages are doing a lot more

Many home designers are looking at ways to design smaller homes with spaces that serve multiple uses, and that’s now including the garage. With space in many homes at a premium, it’s not too much of a stretch to consider cleaning up that vast cold expanse of concrete and making it more than a place to park the car. Garages are now sharing space with exercise areas, hobby rooms and other uses.

One of the most important uses for the garage is storage, but not just shelves tacked to the wall. Built-in storage cabinets with doors achieve a clean and uncluttered look that also protects the contents. There are a number of companies now offering sleek and sturdy garage cabinets, workbenches, and wall-mounted storage systems that are versatile and quite attractive. There are also ceiling-mounted platform lifts for even more storage.

Walls should be drywalled, textured and painted with a washable paint. Use ample lighting, especially in work areas. Consider an epoxy coating for the floor, or even a garage mat surface, which creates a brighter, more attractive area that’s easier to clean.

Ditto for the laundry room

Another space in the house that’s doing double and even triple duty is the laundry room. Rather than having a single room that’s used solely for laundry, many of today’s designers are looking at making this room larger and allowing it to handle multiple chores, which lets other rooms be smaller or even be eliminated.

Once again, storage is emphasized, with lots of cabinet space for everything from cleaning supplies to extra toilet paper. Space can be provided for just about any part-time use that doesn’t require a large amount of square footage elsewhere, such as crafts or even a small home office.

For most situations, unless the bulk of the living space is on the second floor, the design pros felt that a first-floor laundry room was preferable. One designer adds a doggie door in her laundry room designs that goes through the wall to the backyard. "The laundry room is a great area for the dog during the day, and the doggie door provides direct access to the yard," she said. "It’s been one of our most popular options!"

The designers also emphasized the importance of a transition area between the garage and the house: "The garage wants in," was the way one architect put it.

This transition area might be the laundry room, or it might be another intermediate space such as a mud room area, with a sink for washing up. The transition area should contain a bench or other seating for removing shoes, as well as storage for hats, coats, gloves and other outdoor essentials. It should also include convenient storage for things like keys, and perhaps a charging station for phones and other electronics.

Some thoughts on kitchens

Kitchens, of course, are one of the biggest sellers in home design. Some designers are getting away from traditional "work triangle" design, and are looking more at designs that work for specific users.

But one thing that all the designers agreed on was a growing emphasis on islands. Islands are very popular, and may incorporate a cooktop, prep sink or some other element that makes it easier for two cooks to operate at the same time.

Eat-in kitchens remain popular, with space at the island or at a peninsula for eating. But what’s definitely changed is the arrangement of the seating. Designers are getting away from the "picnic bench" seating arrangement, with all the stools or chairs in a row, which is not conducive to conversation. That’s being replaced by 90-degree seating, with stools along two or even three perpendicular edges of the island, the way they would be at a conventional table.

Remodeling and repair questions? Email Paul at paulbianchina@inman.com. All product reviews are based on the author’s actual testing of free review samples provided by the manufacturers.

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Foreclosure-resistance movement launches TV ad campaign

Editor’s note: The following item is republished with permission of AOL Real Estate. See the original article: Occupy Our Homes Launches TV Ad to Fight Foreclosures.

By Teke Wiggin

Occupy Our Homes (OOH), an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement, launched a national ad campaign this week aimed at inspiring beleaguered homeowners to battle foreclosure and eviction. The organization has created a foreclosure-resistance template and support network that it hopes borrowers will use to fight off repossession of their homes.

The group has affiliates across the country, and some of them have already helped a number of distressed homeowners stave off foreclosure.

Five of these homeowners appear in the ad, including a veteran, Bobby Hull, who obtained a loan modification after local OOH affiliates staged an extended sit-in at his property last year. AOL Real Estate reported on the sit-in in its early stages.

The ad closes with a plug for the group’s website, OccupyOurHomes.org, which directs homeowners to the organization’s affiliates and provides a field manual for battling foreclosure by using Occupy sit-in tactics.

Visitors to the website can use an online tool called "start an occupation," which enlists the support of OOH groups committed to defending homeowners at risk of foreclosure.

"When there have been cases that have come to light in various communities, we’ve seen a real uptick in interest of people reaching out to us for help, checking out the resources we have available," said Occupy Our Homes spokesperson Han Shan about the purpose of the ad.

OOH said it raised $34,496 for the campaign using crowd-funding website LoudSauce.com. The ad, which will appear on networks including CNN, Fox and MSNBC, is part of the "Occupy Spots" project, a joint effort between Occupy Wall Street and LoudSauce.com, "whose goal is to provide an alternative to Super PACs by funding ads by and for the 99 percent."

"It’s about trying to take to the airwaves," Shan said.

Read Occupy Our Homes Launches TV Ad to Fight Foreclosures at AOL Real Estate.

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Deducting health expenses will become more difficult in 2013

Have you been thinking about going to the chiropractor or dentist, but been putting it off because it’s not covered by insurance? If so, you should probably incur these and other uninsured health expenses before the end of the year. If you wait until 2013 or later, it will become much harder to deduct them from your income taxes.

For decades all taxpayers who itemize have been entitled to a tax deduction for medical and dental expenses for themselves, their spouses and their dependents. Eligible expenses include both health insurance premiums and out-of-pocket expenses not covered by insurance.

Unfortunately, there is a significant limitation on the deduction, which can make it useless for many taxpayers: You can deduct only the amount of your medical and dental expenses that are more than a specified percentage of your adjusted gross income (AGI). Your AGI is your total taxable income, minus deductions for retirement contributions and half of your self-employment taxes (if any), plus a few other items (as shown at the bottom of your Form 1040).

For many years, this percentage has been 7.5 percent. Thus, for example, if your AGI was $100,000, you could deduct your medical expenses as an itemized deduction only if, and to the extent, they exceed $7,500.

However, starting in 2013, it will go up to 10 percent (except for people 65 and over, who will be exempt from the increase until 2017). This will make it much more difficult to qualify for the deduction. For example, if your AGI is $100,000, you’ll be able to deduct medical expenses only if, and to the extent, they exceed $10,000.

Thus, if you need to incur any health-related out-of-pocket expenses, you should do so by the end of 2012, so you can take advantage of the lower 7.5 percent limit.

Keep in mind that lots of things you might not regard as medical expenses are deductible. Paying for these will add to your total medical expenses for the year.

The Internal Revenue Service broadly defines deductible medical expenses to include any payment for "the diagnosis, cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease, or treatment affecting any structure or function of the body." That covers a lot of territory.

It includes, of course, money you spend on doctors and dentists as well as nursing care, hospitalization, lab fees and long-term care. But medical expenses include much more — for example, you may deduct fees you pay to chiropractors, psychiatrists, optometrists, psychologists, osteopaths, acupuncturists, podiatrists, and even Christian Science practitioners. You can also deduct things like transportation costs for health treatment and the cost of remodeling your home to accommodate a handicap (adding wheelchair ramps, for example).

However, there are some health-related expenses that are not deductible. For example, you may not deduct nonprescription drugs or the cost of cosmetic surgery (but reconstructive surgery is deductible). Nor can you deduct veterinary fees.

You can find a list of deductible and nondeductible medical expenses in IRS Publication 502, Medical and Dental Expenses.

Stephen Fishman is a tax expert, attorney and author who has published 18 books, including "Working for Yourself: Law & Taxes for Contractors, Freelancers and Consultants," "Deduct It," "Working as an Independent Contractor," and "Working with Independent Contractors." He welcomes your questions for this weekly column.

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California MLS offers tool to auto-fill electronic transaction forms

A California multiple listing service, Central Coast Regional MLS (CCRMLS), is now offering the bulk of its members access to a tool that will allow them to transfer data directly from the MLS database into transaction forms.

ZipFormMLS-Connect is a feature available only to users of zipForm, electronic forms software from Realtor-owned real estate technology company zipLogix. MLS-Connect will be free to members of five of CCRMLS’s member associations: the Atascadero Association of Realtors, Paso Robles AOR, Pismo Coast AOR, San Luis Obispo AOR, and Scenic Coast AOR.

Members of the Santa Maria Association of Realtors have the option to purchase the service individually. The other two CCRMLS member associations, Lompoc Valley and Santa Ynez Valley, are not participating in MLS-Connect. On the whole, all but about 200 of CCRMLS’ 2,100 members will have access to MLS-Connect.

"(Our members’) time is valuable, and this tool will help minimize the time spent completing their transaction paperwork," said Diane Larsen, an executive with Atascadero Association of Realtors, in a statement.

So far this month, at least seven associations — not including the CCRMLS six — in two states have signed up with zipLogix, which integrated the e-signature platform DocuSign into its system a couple of weeks ago.

Founded in 1991, zipLogix is a joint venture between the National Association of Realtors and Real Estate Business Services Inc. (REBS), a subsidiary of the California Association of Realtors. 


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Housing starts continue to see annual gains in July

Housing starts, though dipping 1.1 percent in July from June, were up 14.2 percent on a year-over-year basis, continuing a steady upward trend.

July groundbreakings were at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 746,000, down from June’s adjusted rate of 754,000, but up from July 2011’s rate of 614,000, according to the latest numbers from the Census Bureau.

Single-family housing starts were down 6.5 percent from June to July, to a seasonally adjusted rate of 502,000, but still a 17 percent increase from a year ago and 42 percent above their March 2009 bottom of 353,000.

July also saw the most single-family construction permits filed by builders (513,000) since August 2008, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

Housing starts have been rising on an annual basis since September 2011 and are now 56 percent above their trough in April 2009 — 478,000 — according to census records dating back to January 1959.

Source: Calculated Risk  

The sustained housing-start improvement over the last several months "confirms that recent previous increases are part of a sustained trend, not a temporary blip," said Jed Kolko, chief economist and head of analytics at real estate search portal Trulia.

Calculated Risk’s Bill McBride credits the lack of new construction during the housing downturn with helping spur a recovery this year.

"The record low level of completions over the last four years — and record low level of housing units added to the housing stock — is an important reason for the budding recovery in housing," McBride wrote in a blog post.

"The last four years have seen record low completions, and 2012 will also be very low. This low level of completions means that a significant portion of the excess vacant housing supply has been absorbed. And completions in 2012 will still be very low even with the 20-plus percent increase in housing starts."

Source: Calculated Risk  

Regionally, the West led the way in July with a 48.1 percent annual jump in housing starts, to 197,000. The Midwest followed with a 28.6 percent increase, to 117,000. The South had the biggest volume of housing starts by far last month, 355,000, up 16.8 percent from a year ago.

The Northeast was the only region to see housing starts decline on a yearly basis, by 10.5 percent to 77,000. 

For single-family housing starts, all regions except the Northeast showed year-over-year increases, led by the West (26.1 percent), then the South (20.9 percent), and Midwest (12 percent). In the Northeast, single-family housing starts fell 14.6 percent.


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3 must-knows before taking out a reverse mortgage

Approximately one-third of all Americans own their homes free and clear. Nevertheless, many seniors can end up losing their homes because they don’t have the money to pay their property taxes, or they get hit with high medical bills or encounter a situation in which they need the equity from their home but can’t qualify for a loan.

For many, a reverse mortgage may be a great way to avoid losing their home.

Over the last few years, reverse mortgages have gained a somewhat negative reputation in the real estate community. In some circumstances, however, these can be a tremendous blessing to seniors who may be at risk of losing their homes.

How reverse mortgages work

There are many different types of reverse mortgages. Unfortunately, there are quite a few scams in this area, so seniors looking at this option need to tread carefully. Here’s how the HUD/Federal Housing Administration program works:

"A reverse mortgage is a special type of home loan that lets you convert a portion of the equity in your home into cash. The equity that you built up over years of making mortgage payments can be paid to you. However, unlike a traditional home equity loan or second mortgage, HECM (home equity conversion mortgage) borrowers do not have to repay the HECM loan until the borrowers no longer use the home as their principal residence or fail to meet the obligations of the mortgage.

"You can also use a HECM to purchase a primary residence if you are able to use cash on hand to pay the difference between the HECM proceeds and the sales price plus closing costs for the property you are purchasing.

"To be eligible for a FHA HECM, the FHA requires that you be a homeowner 62 years of age or older, own your home outright, or have a low mortgage balance that can be paid off at closing with proceeds from the reverse loan, and you must live in the home."

You could choose to receive your payout as a lump sum, a lifetime monthly payment, a monthly payment for a limited term, a line of credit, or a combination. You would never owe more than the value of the home, regardless of the amount paid out.

Reverse mortgages require points and fees, which often run about 5 percent of the property value. On a $400,000 property, that’s $20,000.

The homeowner must occupy the property as his or her primary residence. If the homeowner becomes ill and is away from the home for more than 365 days, the reverse mortgage becomes due and/or the property must be sold.

When the homeowner dies, the property goes to the lender upon the death of the borrower. In some cases, the property may be sold, provided that both the interest and principal paid by the lender can be reimbursed. If this is the case, then the balance could go to the deceased’s estate.

As a rule of thumb, the younger the borrower is (minimum age is 62), the smaller any monthly payment would be. For more information on reverse mortgages, visit the Federal Trade Commission website.

A reverse mortgage retirement plan: reality or pipe dream?

I recently had a conversation with one of my former colleagues from Southern California who is eagerly awaiting his 62nd birthday so he can get a reverse mortgage. He is a sophisticated investor who has owned (and lost) multiple properties over the years. His game plan for retirement is to do what most investors love to do: work with someone else’s money. Here’s what his plan is:

1. When he turns 62, he will purchase a four-unit building where he will put 40 percent down, owner-occupy one unit, and rent out the other three units.

2. He will then obtain a reverse mortgage, which he will use to pay down the principal as rapidly as possible.

The result: The reverse mortgage refunds his down payment each month while he collects the cash flow from the building. If he lives long enough, he has paid zero for the property since the rents and reverse mortgage will cover the cost of the property plus covering all his living expenses. Since he has no heirs, he’s not concerned about what happens after he dies. While all of this sounds great, there are a host of issues that this individual is not taking into consideration that could spell disaster.


1. Is the mortgage lender reputable?
HUD/FHA is one of the legitimate reverse mortgage lenders. It’s important to verify that any reverse mortgage lender the borrower uses is reputable.

2. Lump sum payments can be dangerous.
A report by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that about 70 percent of all borrowers elect a lump sum payment, oftentimes to handle bills or other emergencies. The challenge is that once the money is gone, the reverse mortgage continues to deplete the borrower’s remaining equity. The result is that if the owners are unable to keep up with property tax increases or their insurance, they can still lose their home.

In fact, the report says that about 10 percent of all homeowners with a reverse mortgage are now facing foreclosure, largely due to the fact that they took lump sum payments. Part of the reason so many people take this option is that the lump sum payment (at least for the HUD/FHA product) is at a fixed rate, while the monthly payment option is at an adjustable rate.

3. A little-known dirty secret.
In many cases where people have remarried, the house may be in one person’s name. In that case, if the person who is on the mortgage dies, the surviving spouse could be evicted from the property.

The bottom line is that reverse mortgages can be a tool to help an owner stay in his property, but they should be considered more as a last resort when all other options have been exhausted.

Bernice Ross, CEO of RealEstateCoach.com, is a national speaker, trainer and author of the National Association of Realtors’ No. 1 best-seller, "Real Estate Dough: Your Recipe for Real Estate Success." Hear Bernice’s five-minute daily real estate show, just named "new and notable" by iTunes, at www.RealEstateCoachRadio.com. You can contact her at Bernice@RealEstateCoach.com or @BRoss on Twitter.

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3 steps to appeal your property taxes

Q: I bought my house in 2011, in a down market, but I paid too much. Can I get my taxes lowered by pointing out comps in my area to the tax assessor during the period they accept tax grievances? –Jack S.

Q: My taxes were raised by almost $2,000/year last April. Can you tell me how to appeal or reduce that? –Sameh G.

A: Jack, you feel that the value of your home has declined or is otherwise lower than what you paid for it. Sameh, your home’s value appears to have increased — or at least your tax assessor thinks it has. Although it sounds like the two of you are in roughly opposite scenarios, you both must go through essentially the same process to achieve your identical goal: lowering your property taxes.

Here are the three basic steps you should take:

1. Research the tax appeal guidelines that apply to your home. Every locality is different, but the general rule is that your local (usually county) tax assessor determines the assessed value of your home based on its market value. That assessed value is the basis of your property taxes.

Accordingly, when the market value of your home increases above the assessed value, your property taxes may increase the next time your home is reassessed. Sameh, it sounds like this is what happened to you.

(Some states have limitations on how much your home’s assessed value and/or taxes can rise in a given time period, regardless of the change in its market value.)

The converse is true: If your home’s market value declines below the assessed value, it is subject to reassessment downward, with a corresponding decrease in property taxes. Jack, this may apply to your situation, no matter what you paid for the place.

However, you can’t necessarily appeal your home’s property tax assessment anytime you want to; visit your local assessor’s website to find the forms, timelines and requirements to protest or appeal your home’s assessed value.

There is usually a period of time every year during which these appeals are accepted, and the process usually involves you making the case that your home’s market value is less than the assessed value, showing recent sales as proof of what you say your home is worth. If you can’t find the information online, call the tax assessor’s office in your county or town and ask them to brief you on how the appeals process works.

2. Get comparables. Again, homeowners who want to protest their home’s assessed value are generally required to state what they believe their home’s market value actually is, and to back up their estimate of their home’s value with data on nearby homes that have recently sold (i.e., within the last six months or less).

You can get this data several ways. Real estate listing sites often provide it for free; for example, visit Trulia.com and type your address into the search box — scroll down, and you’ll find recent sales listed out for you. Alternatively, contact the local real estate professional who sold you your house and let him know what you’re trying to do — many will happily provide you with recent sales data at no charge.

Most tax assessors will want to know not only the sales price of the comparable homes, but also some basic facts about those properties and how they compare to yours, like the number of bedrooms, bathrooms and square feet.

3. Prepare an estimate of your home and submit it for appeal. Once you have the recent sales data at hand that backs up the dollar amount you think reflects your home’s true fair market value, assuming that this number is actually below your home’s assessed value, you’re ready to complete the assessor appeals form and submit the documents for consideration. Some assessors may require that you physically come in and make your case, but most will simply review the information and make a finding, which you then have the right to appeal in person if it does not come out the way you like.

In any event, keep in mind that your property taxes are deductible from your federal income tax return, and that they increase only when your home’s value does. Keeping this in mind might provide some solace, Sameh, if you review the comparable sales data and find that your home’s value has in fact risen — overall, that’s a good thing!

Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman’s Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Tara is also the Consumer Ambassador and Educator for real estate listings search site Trulia.com. Ask her a real estate question online or visit her website, www.rethinkrealestate.com.


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