Are you one of thousands of homeowners wondering what happened to your property insurance discount in Florida?  Perhaps you paid money for an expensive inspection that entitled you to property insurance discounts on your homeowners insurance for things like wind protection. Florida law requires insurance companies to offer homeowners discounts or credits for existing building features or home improvements that reduce damage and loss from hurricanes. Florida insurance companies are required to file these discounts with the Office of Insurance Regulation.

Property Insurance Discounts
Has Your Insurance Company Raised Your Rates?

The discounts apply to your wind portion which accounts for 15 to 70% of your total premium, depending on where you live in Florida. We’d encourage you to check out MySafeFloridaHome.com/insurance.asp for more information.

Having moved here from State Farm Country in Central Illinois in the ‘80’s I was a loyal State Farm customer for all those years until last year.  I started receiving letters stating that State Farm wanted to re-inspect my home, ignoring the reports I had presented years prior that entitled me to wind protections discounts.

Low and behold an inspector came out, looked around, and left.  He didn’t ask me to show him anything.  Next thing I know I received a letter denying my discounts.  I asked for a re-inspection.  That was denied.  I asked them to look at my reports.  They did and said it didn’t qualify.  I provided copies of the permit and State Farm said the wind resistance tests weren’t with the documentation.  Keep in mind the inspector looked into none of this.  This was a failed test designed from the get go.

I provided the engineering and testing reports provided by the manufacturer.  These products were tested and accepted by the state, but not State Farm.  A loyal customer of State Farm for over 30 years was forced to switch.  I’m sure State Farm isn’t the only company stingy with the discounts.

Citizens has made news the past few months after employing the same tactics. Citizens has received complaints stemming from their reinspection program that has resulted in 3 out of 4 property owners receiving rate hikes due to the new inspection.  So far Citizens has inspected 257,000 properties, so that’s about 192,750 affected customers.

Due to the complaints, Citizens board of directors has decided to reform its reinspection program, hire an auditor, and improve its customer relations department.  I’m still waiting on State Farm to do the same.

Property owners will now have a year to dispute the rate hikes.  Owners can request another inspection free of charge.  If an inspector previously could not enter an attic a home was denied automatically, but that’s not the case on the reinspection program.

I saw another report this past week that said the state has built up a $6.2 Billion dollar fund due to lack of hurricanes.  I realize one big hurricane in a metropolitan area can change all that, but it would seem to me these insurance companies could pass along the savings for homeowners who have complied and strengthened their homes.  Don’t set guidelines, ask people to spend money and follow them, then jerk the discounts away.  These people have spent good money to protect their property which in turn should lower insurance costs.  It seems the people are keeping their end of the bargain. And now it’s time insurance companies keep theirs.

We suspect this has happened to many here in SW Florida. If it has, call your insurance company.  Let your elected representatives know.  If it’s important to you, it will become important to them.  Together we all pay, and together our thousands of voices will be heard, and hopefully together we’ll all save.

Feel free to share your insurance stories here.

 

Well, it’s that time of year again and the tropical season is heating up.  Because we have an impending storm approaching we decided to do a video on Hurricane tips for agents and the public alike.  We hope these tips will help you prepare for this storm or any others that may come our way.

Hurricane Tips for SW Florida

 

If you’d like market information on SW Florida including the Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Bonita Springs real estate market and how it stacks up against the national real estate market be sure to  watch our National Housing Report

Last week the News Press ran a story about the rebounding housing market and they used inventory stats that said the single family inventory is down to 13,897 in Lee County, down from 14,113 the month prior. The only problem is, they were looking at the chart wrong as those were cumulative inventory numbers, not current.

Housing Numbers Becoming More Reliable
SW Florida Housing Inventory

It was an easy enough mistake if you don’t study those numbers on a regular basis. The chart should have quoted 3,579 single family homes on the market, but even that number isn’t the best number, and we’ll explain why.

I sit on the MLS stats committee and for the last year or so we’ve been working hard on cleaning up the data and defining how listings should be classified to best reflect what’s actually happening in the market. Look for inventory levels to increase because of this change.

In the past inventory numbers only reflected Active listings that were not Active Contingent Short Sale. In other words, agents were still taking offers to present to the bank or as backups until the banks accepted a short sale offer but it wasn’t being counted. At the point a bank accepts a short sale offer the property was to be placed pending, like a normal sale would be.

A high degree of pending sales actually close, but the same cannot always be said for Active Contingent sales, especially short sales. Another reasons aside from being a short sale a property could be listed as Active Contingent would be if something else has to happen first, like a buyer selling another property before they can close.

In this case a listing agent may mark the property Active Contingent and insert a Right of First Refusal clause and continue to market the property. To me, this property is still an active listing and should be counted in inventory. From now on it will.

It’s easy to count and search for sold properties in MLS, but it’s much harder to go back and search for active listings from the past on a certain date unless you have frozen copies of the database. Because of this, the Board of Realtors cannot post what the active listings would have been under the new guidelines since they weren’t searched that way at the time.

Some on the committee pondered whether it would be easier to just keep the status quo since we didn’t have that data. Most of us preferred to rectify and make the most accurate possible, even if it meant postponing the revisions to past inventory levels until we have a new baseline to present. Everyone on the committee concurred once the tough decision was made to make it right, even if it would cause some heartache and confusion for a few months.

Personally I’d rather take the tough steps now to get the most accurate statistics to agents and the general public, and the committee and the Board agreed.

Housing Numbers Becoming More Reliable

I feel much more confident going forward with the data that will be provided. All the definitions will be posted and any agent should be able to duplicate the data, something that wasn’t possible in the past. This will provide for full transparency and credible data, and should eliminate various sources from having differing standards and definitions.

While mistakes in the newspaper or anywhere else will always be possible, hopefully we’ve made some changes that will eliminate systemic errors. We still have the issue of various boards reporting separate data which can cause duplication in areas served by two nearby MLS’s, we can account for this within a consistent statistical deviation.

It really depends on whether the press is quoting one board or multiple boards as the source for their data, as some listing may appear in one board and not the other, and some appear in both.

I feel very confident in the new definitions presented by the Florida Gulf Coast MLS which will begin to take affect soon. In the meantime, we’ll continue to report the stats and inform you where we believe the numbers will change. Inventory numbers are low but will increase under the new guidelines.

We’ll talk about some of the new formulas in future articles that better reflect the SW Florida real estate market.

Good luck and Happy House Hunting!

Each week we spend a lot of time analyzing the local market which is important to study even though we all know we don’t operate in a bubble.  We’ve always maintained that our market is influenced by the state and national economy, tourism, interest rates, taxation, and markets up North among other things.

RE/MAX national Housing Report

So let’s take a look at the national market.  Fortunately RE/MAX publishes a national housing report.  RE/MAX collects data on 53 metro housing market including markets such as Chicago IL, Providence RI, Miami FL, Boise ID, Phoenix AZ, Detroit MI, Pittsburgh PA, Los Angeles CA, San Francisco CA, Denver CO, Orlando FL and several others which should give a pretty good cross section of the country.

National Real Estate Market Improving

The monthly study compares data from the previous month and from the previous year.  This month’s report shows transactions nationwide are up 5% over last year and median prices are up 3.7% from $163,995 last June to $170,067 this June.

Prices Rise, Sales Increase
Healthy Gains

Days on the market for homes sold dropped significantly to 84 days in the 53 metro markets. This is down 8 days from May 2012 and down 6 days from June 2011.  Inventory nationwide has dropped significantly which is forcing buyers to compete with other buyers.

Days on Market Nationwide
Days on market Fall

All this news could be good news again for SW Florida.  Last season many buyers came down and looked at properties, and several bought.  We had an excellent season.  Others needed to go back home, sell a property and get their finances in order before they could make the move to SW Florida.  Still others want to take out an equity loan against their Northern home to purchase a second home down here.  In any event, lower inventory and rising prices help our Northern friends who are interested in purchasing down here.

And it helps next year’s crop who will visit our area.  They’ll have more confidence in the market up North which can spur many of them to also consider a move to SW Florida.

Baby boomers aren’t getting any younger and sometimes the only thing standing in their way is having a house to sell or borrow against before purchasing.  This bright housing report helps in that regard.

Having election results out of the way in November may help as well.  There is much uncertainty in Congress and the White House.  Will we have national health care?  Will big cuts go into effect in certain markets Jan 1?  Will taxes go up on small business owners?  Will companies ship US jobs overseas because it’s too expensive here in the US?  Hopefully many of these answers will come in November and next season will be good as well.

What happens in the US economy influences the national real estate market.  Taxes influence the market.  Capital gains rates are set to go up in January which could hurt the market.  We have so many things at stake in November that will influence every one of us in various ways.

Florida truly is a trickle down state.  What happens up North affects us down here.  We’ll keep studying the local market, and occasionally we’ll report on the national scene as well simply because it matters.  If it matters to you, it matters to us.

In the meantime things are looking up.  Let’s keep the momentum going.  We like the direction.  Good luck and Happy House Hunting!

 

We thought since we know so many of the very top and most experienced agents nationwide it would be great if we could post market updates from around the country.  Here is a list of market updates you might find useful.  We post these without regards to company affiliation.  These agents are known for doing a great job in their market.

National Agent Reports

National Real Estate Market Improving

Minneapolis/ St Paul MN    Video Market Update by Steve Westmark

Louisville KY Market Update by Bob Sokoler

Naples FL Market Improves by Greg Gorman of Team Paradise

Dallas/Fort Worth, Southlake TX by Kellee Heldoorn

Eugene and Springfield OR By Galand Haas

Overland Park and Kansas City KS by Cindy DiCianni

Mandeville LA by Wayne Turner

Orlando FL market Reports  Celebration FL,  Windemere FL,  Kissimmee FL by Teri Isner

Central PA by Don Roth

Charlotte NC by Diane Honeycutt

San Mateo County CA by Samia Morgan

Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill, North Carolina by Tim Burrell

Fort Myers – Cape Coral FL by Brett Ellis

Lately agents have been complaining about Condo or Homeowners Associations being difficult to work with to obtain numbers to payoff associations to put a short sale closing together.  To give readers a little perspective, here is the process of a short sale.

Association Management Companies Causing More Foreclosures

Partial List of Association Company Fees
SW Florida Association Fee Chart

Once a buyer is found and contract is negotiated it is sent to the seller’s bank for consideration to take less than the full proceeds to payoff the loan.  The bank asks us to put together a sample HUD closing statement.  To do this, we along with the title company estimate a closing date, pro-rate for taxes and any other costs that would go on the statement.  A lender will not allow the seller to receive any money from the closing, so this statement must match almost exactly.  We plug in the payoff on the loans last and the bank decides whether they’ll take the payoff.

Are Association Management Companies Causing More Foreclosures

We must put in the HOA fees, and there in lies the problem, HOA and Condo Associations won’t tell you how much is owed without paying them a fee.  Keep in mind it’s in everyone’s best interest to get the deal closed so another happy homeowner can begin paying fees.  If the property goes to foreclosure, the Association has some rights to recover some past fees, but only to a certain point.  Many times the association loses money in unpaid fees. There are Florida Statutes that cover this and we won’t cover that in this article.

HOA’s and condo associations typically contract with CAM”S (Common Asset Property Manager’s) to manage their association.  There is still a board of directors and officers, but the day to day management falls to a management company unless an association is self managed.  Typically the Board interviews and hires a company based upon tasks, and fees among other things.  The management company will quote a fee, let’s say $50,000 in this hypothetical example to manage the association, hire the landscapers, collect HOA fees, and all the things an association must do. The list goes on and on.

What the Board doesn’t always consider are the hidden fees a management company charges, like estoppel letter fees.  An Estoppel letter is the formal instrument that tells the title company how much is owed by the owner so the property can be closed.  Typically the short seller is having money problems and this is why they can’t pay their mortgage or HOA fees.  They are trying to sell, but the HOA fees and legal fees keep mounting.

So when an owner cannot pay the estoppel fee so the file can be closed, it sometimes forces the property to foreclosure.  Here is a list of fees some of these companies charge to tell you how much you owe.  As you can see, they charge a certain fee nd make you wait, but if you upgrade and pay more they’ll tell you sooner.

Most even charge more after 30 days to update the fee.  It typically takes the bank longer than 30 days to approve the short sale, so more fees are almost guaranteed.

Now, the HOA or condo association doesn’t keep that money.  You guessed it, that money stays with the management company, so it’s a profit center for them.  They get paid either way a management fee to run the association.  The HOA or condo may lose money by prolonging things, but the management company doesn’t.

Keep in mind many people belong to multiple associations, so these fees may be doubled or tripled.  Also, if a homeowner is in default, they may owe an estoppel fee to the law firm in addition to the management companies.

If more Boards asked better questions when interviewing management companies they’d save their property values from declining further and the association’s financial situation would be much better off.  Keep in mind, everyone else pays when someone in trouble isn’t.  HOA fees for everyone would be less if they didn’t have to make up for those that aren’t paying.  And less foreclosures leads to higher prices in a community, so everyone but the management company has a vested interest in providing this information quickly and painlessly.

Extra fees are the dirty little secret in association management people aren’t aware of until it hits them.  Nobody is saying a company who does good work like CAM’s do shouldn’t be paid nicely for their work.  I’d rather see them be upfront about it and quote it in their bid instead of complicating things on the back end when time is of the essence.

These companies will tell you it costs them to look up and report these fees.  Does it really cost them a lot more to look them up quicker?  How long does it take an employee to check the computer?

We’ve included a chart that shows recent transactions encountered and the fees that were charged. This chart is by no means complete.  Next time you go to your HOA or condo meeting, you might ask your board to look into this.  If you’re wondering if it’s really an issue, call your agent or title company and ask them their opinion.

 

In the old days agents would ask sellers to come into their office in hopes that the seller would be so impressed they’d select the Realtor they were going to list with on the spot.  This was a good strategy, and if a Realtor stands out from the crowd by a wide margin, why wouldn’t a seller be impressed?  Some Realtors even refused to visit the seller’s property until the seller selected them as their agent.  While this may seem a little over the top, some Realtors actually used this strategy with some success.

Listing Presentations Going Mobile
90% of Homebuyers Now Shop on the Internet to Buy a Home

Listing Presentations Going Mobile

Today there is no reason an agent cannot do both!  With the advent of Tablets like the iPad or an Android Tablet an agent can now bring the office to the seller.  It’s quite easy to show your office, how you work, and how you market in a mobile world.  If the agent works and negotiates contracts in a mobile world, why can’t they list in a mobile world?

The truth is they can, and they should.  The two most important ingredients in a successful home sale is the relationship between the seller and the listing agent, and the property itself.  The agent’s office really doesn’t matter.

33% Repeat Buyers Find Their Agent on Internet
How do Buyers Find Their Agent

Oh, we’re proud of our physical office and all the things we can show a buyer or seller from the office.  However, many times offers have come in while I’m out of town or away on appointment and I’ve been able to look at the offer, make changes, negotiate, and close the sale, all in the amount of time it would have taken to drive back across town from the appointment and begin that process.  The office never entered into the equation.

Sure, we have a team of assistants back at the office assisting us, but that had nothing to do with negotiating the offer.  Just the same, we no longer feel the need to show a seller the office and meet the team before listing their home.  We can bring the team to the seller.  We even have powerful video conferencing we can utilize with our sellers and our team.

A seller can surely list a home without going to an agent’s office, but it’s pretty tough for an agent to list a home without seeing the sellers home. Pricing the home depends on condition, functionality, upgrades, etc.  There is no substitute for viewing the home.

You have to ask yourself, am I listing my home or listing the agent’s office?  We all know the answer is the home, so why not focus there?

You’re also hiring an agent, so it’s important to ask questions, such as how will you market my home?  Why should I hire you?  What do you bring to the table that another Realtor doesn’t?  Show me examples.

Some things are just hard to show on paper.  So much marketing today is online or the print is not the standard 8 1/2 x 11.  I remember the days when we used to handout 80 page packets explaining the sales process and our team.  Those days are now gone.

An agent today can show a seller how buyers are using Apps to search for their home.  We can show how the home looks online, how many people have seen it, and where the agent ranks in search engines.  Sellers can see virtual tours, photos, satellite views, etc all in the comfort of their home.

Not all agents are the same.  Results can vary greatly from agent to agent, and from company to company.  Ask your Realtor to show you everything.  Buyers today are demanding tech savvy agents when searching for a home.  If your Realtor can’t show you their business in a mobile world, how in the world are they going to market your home to today’s buyer?

Later on it may be necessary to meet at the office, but selecting which Realtor to list with is no longer one of those necessities.  If you’re considering selling your home, let us show you how buyers really view your home, and why selecting an agent with today’s tools matters.

Good luck, and Happy Home Selling.

 

The Ellis Team at RE/MAX Realty Group is holding two open houses this weekend.

Ellis Team Weekend Open Houses July 14-15

2322 SE 8th Street, Cape Coral $165,000
Open Saturday 1PM-4PM

Ellis Team Weekend Open Houses July 14-15
2322 SE 8th Street, Cape Coral $165,000

Move-in ready, 3 bedroom, 2 bath canal front home in quiet, well maintained neighborhood. Home features spacious bedrooms,vaulted ceilings, large screened lanai which overlooks dock and canal. All assessments are in and paid.

 

Rear Water View
2322 SE 8th Street, Cape Coral Water View

14091 Oak Hammock Lane $300,000

 

Sunday Open House
14091 Oak Hammock Lane Fort Myers, FL 33905 Front View
Rear View 14091 Oak Hammock Lane Fort Myers, FL 33905
14091 Oak Hammock Lane Fort Myers, FL 33905 Rear View

 

 

Paradise for those who love the outdoors and peace and quiet. Spacious family home on 1+acres with 5 bedrooms, 2 baths is surrounded by towering Live Oaks and many tropical plants. Home site borders creek that forms one boundary. Exquisite Brazilian Mesquite floors in the living areas, wood burning fireplace in the family room. Sitting room/den off master bedroom could be used as as office, tv room, nursery, your choice. Large master bath has over sized walk-in shower as well as a jacuzzi tub and dual sinks. Large flagstone patio has a built in fire pit and just a short walk away is a personal putting green. Call today to see this beautiful property. Some furniture available separately.

 

Ellis Team at RE/MAX Realty Group

7910 Summerlin Lakes Dr

Fort Myers, FL 33907

239-489-4042

We’ve recently been testing a concept to gauge consumer interest at a subdivision level. For years agents have been sending out Just Listed or Just Sold postcards, or even market updates to communities. Typically this only reached sellers. This was OK because the target was always the sellers who might list their homes. It’s a practice in the industry known as “Farming.”

Map with Homes for Sale and Solds in Reflection Lakes
Reflection Lakes Interactive Map

We thought buyers might also be interested in similar information, but reaching them in addition to targeted sellers in that area can be dicey. You can’t just mail to a certain area as the buyer could come from anywhere.

We thought “What if we could target both worlds, the buyer and the seller?” One way to target buyers is to reach them on the Internet for specific search items. For instance, let’s say a buyer is looking to buy in Reflection Lakes. If we could somehow provide this list of data when buyers are searching, would buyers find that helpful?

We don’t know, but our hunch says they might. We’ve researched a way to provide a map of an area which shows all the homes available for sale, all closed sales within a certain time frame, and all pending sales and pinpointed them on the map. Additionally, if you click on the pin, you get additional information on the home, like list price, sold price, size, age, pool, waterfront description, bedrooms, bathrooms, and much more. You can customize it to display about anything you want.

We even went so far as to provide links to additional information if available, virtual tours and more. In this way, a buyer or seller can quickly see a homes location on a map and compare it with other like kind homes for sale. It is color coded and sorted by status, so you can look at the solds to get an idea of what homes are selling for or just actives. Perhaps you’re riding down the street and just want to know what it’s on the market for.

The map is set for a particular point in time, however it can be updated at any time. The agent selects the fields to display. The consumer can zoom in or out, as well as click on street view to look up and down the street and view the homes photos, or even take a satellite view to get an idea of the terrain and the surroundings of the community.

We exported all this information into a Google map., so the possibilities are endless on how you can view these homes. It’s really kind of fun. We liked it, so we thought consumers might too,

We selected fields we thought the consumer would be interested in. These fields are flexible and we can add or subtract when building the next map. It took me about an hour to setup this map in Reflection lakes. If you’d like to view it, simply go to www.Reflectionlakes.com

We can setup a map like this for any area and import data from the MLS. If you live in a community you think would benefit from something like this, give us a call at 239-489-4042 or send me an email Brett@topagent.com and I’ll look into it. If you think it’s missing something, or have feedback, we’d like to hear it.

If you think we’re nuts and nobody will use it, you can let us know too. Feel free to email us or comment on our Blog http://blog.topagent.com

We honestly don’t know if the public will use it or like it. We do know it’s cool and useful to us, and we enjoy trying new things if they have the potential to help in the buying or selling process.

Stay tuned for future updates for other areas around Lee County on our website at Topagent.com

Good luck, and Happy House Hunting!

The Ellis Team at RE/MAX Realty Group in Fort Myers has created an interactive map for searching data in Reflection Lakes in South Fort Myers. By clicking on a listing the map will give you detailed information on the property including links to further detailed information. If a virtual tour is available it will link to that as well.

Reflection Lakes Fort Myers Update

 

 

View Reflection Lakes Fort Myers Florida in a full screen map

Check it out and let us know what you think. Feel free to check out floor plans at our Reflection Lakes website

Watch the SW Florida Real Estate Update June 2012

Last week we wrote about the influence of mobile marketing and how it’s influencing real estate buying.  We must have touched a nerve because the last portion of the story was about a new mobile app and several people emailed asking for the link for this free tech tool. Mobile Apps For Real Estate!

Mobile Apps For Real Estate
RE/MAX Mobile App for iPhone and Android

Because there was so much interest, we decided to do a follow-up and concentrate solely on this new app.  Unlike other apps like Zillow, Trulia, Homes.com, Realtor.com, the RE/MAX app doesn’t sell advertising opportunities per zip code to agents from various companies, so there isn’t pressure from agents trying to convert an advertising opportunity.

The RE/MAX app simply puts detailed information in the hands of the consumer and lets the consumer make choices.  Most apps let the consumer decide when to request information, but RE/MAX isn’t selling consumer data to companies for profit.  This app is solely a benefit to consumers provided by the RE/MAX network, and any consumer info is available only to RE/MAX agents when a consumer decides to reach out and request information.

There are some very cool things you can do with this app.  For instance, if you have your GPS on, the app will show where you are on a map and show homes on the market in your area. Users can also enter search criteria such as number of bedrooms, price, location, etc.

The app provides instant access to homes in your search along with listing details and available photos. It also provides turn by turn directions to homes you want to see, interactive maps for navigating neighborhoods, and the ability to save searches.

There is an email option to share properties with your friends and family.  There’s even an integrated mortgage calculator for instant calculations on how much the payments would be.

Sellers love the app because they can find out how their neighbors are pricing their homes.  If a new home comes on the market, a seller can just look it up instantly.  Buyers love it because as they’re driving around they have the power of knowing the price of each home, the details of the home, and pictures right in the palm of their hand.

For years buyers would call about homes they were in front of and be totally surprised at prices in a neighborhood.  This free tool is a powerful education technology that will save buyers much time.  Buyers still seek out quality, professional agents to answer their specific questions the Internet cannot, but this piece of technology sure empowers the consumer and shortens the learning curve.

Judging by the interest last week, we think you’ll like this tool as well.  And best of all it’s Free.  Simply email me Brett@topagent.com and I’ll send you the link to get this tool for Free.  Good luck and happy surfing!