Law Enforcement Cracking Down on Online Home Rental Scams

Don't get fooled by a fraudulent "rental"
The rental housing landscape has been the target of fraudsters.

For instance, a legitimate "for sale" listing which shows up not only on the local REALTOR multiple listing service (MLS), and then (according to licenses) automatically fanned out to such sites as Realtor.com, Trulia, Zillow, etc., and also possibly manually entered by the listing agent into other sites such as Craig's List, is hijacked.

Actual listing agent information is deleted by person(s) attempting to misrepresent the listing, but the rest of the listing information, including photos, is resubmitted as a rental property with a new rental price, often one which does not support local neighborhood values, but gets the fraudster plenty of emails or phone calls.  The purpose of this is to get an unsuspecting renter to wire money to the "agent", before agreeing to see the property.  Of course, after they obtain money, there is no showing of the property--the fraudster may live on the other side of the country, or in another country.  This has personally happened to me, and to other area agents as well.  To get the false information and listing deleted online takes time and phone calls, including phone calls from renters who went to my listing to verify its existence, and then called me from the "for sale" sign.  Of course, it's not for rent, it's for sale.  Moral of the story:  Do not send money or personal information to see a rental.

Another local scenario in the 562 area code is where another rental company with a different area code goes to vacant properties and puts up their own rental sign so that they will get phone calls off someone else's property for which they have no contract to lease or to sell.  Yes, they've been reported so they quit for a while, but after a while, the signs pop up again. 

This is a nationwide problem.  If you are a landlord, you should also take notice of this issue.
Always try to first verify the actual agent or owner of a listing, because this is happening just often enough to cause headaches for all concerned.

Below is an online article for the Freddie Mac Blog published today about this very issue, worthwhile reading for everyone on how to recognize and protect yourself from these schemes. 
Law Enforcement Cracking Down on Online Home Rental Scams: Law enforcement started the year by cracking down on fraudsters using phony online real estate ads to fleece would-be renters.


December Average Sold Prices in Cerritos, Long Beach, Lakewood and Seal Beach

In Los Angeles County, the median priced home in November 2015 was $457,870 and $489,310 in December, 2015 for all of California.

In the chart below are average prices for Cerritos, Long Beach, Lakewood , and Seal Beach single family homes for the past 2 years through December 2015.  The four cities have increased between 12% and 20% in that time.  Current average price - Long Beach $611,735; Cerritos - $699,438; Lakewood $529,903; Seal Beach $1,070,400.


Average condominium prices are more similar for all four cities, ranging from $383,000 (Cerritos) to $312,000 (Seal Beach).


November 2015 Sales Prices in California

California home sales volume and median prices for November, 2015:

Top Concerns for the 2016 Market

Although the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau states "no problem", many REALTORs are experiencing delayed closing with the new TRID (TILA/RESPA Integrated Disclosure) rules implemented October 3rd.  For about half of those responding to a survey, closings took up to 40 days to close.  While this may not be of concern to all-cash buyers, buyers obtaining financing and sellers in contract with those buyers may have to be prepared for taking extra time to close, at least while the industry is in the earlier phase of these new mortgage/escrow rules.

Some years ago FHA revised their rules on eligible condo HOAs--Since an entire association was required to become "FHA-approved", and for only two years at a time, the number of approved condos has declined severely.  This reduces the number of eligible buyers for a condominium severely and is a factor everywhere for FHA condo buyers.  Association members are advised to take up this issue with their boards -HUD provides a resource for current status - and apply for renewal.  Some lenders are willing to provide this service without cost, especially if there is an  active buyer for that complex.  Contact me for more information.  VA approvals for condos are also required for VA buyers, and these are another important source of condo buyers.   However, for buyers obtaining FNMA loans there are no restrictions on percent of owner-occupied units, a major qualifier on FHA loans. 

Tight inventories are still a factor nationwide, as buyers can attest to after they have experienced multiple offer situations.  Buyers who are fully approved and prepared to make realistic offers have more success, although the price range under $500,000 in many Southern California cities is competitive.  Below is a trend chart for "months of inventory" for Long Beach.  Neighboring cities are similar.  A 6-month supply (how long the inventory would last at the current rate of sale) is considered the norm, but has not been the norm for several years. The chart shows 1.5 months.

Tight credit standards continue to affect sales.  There was a time when a 700 FICO score meant smooth sailing, but the average FICO score on all closed loans in the third quarter was 723, the lowest level in at least four years, according to Ellie Mae. Two years ago, the average score for denied applications was 729.  In other words, keep up your credit score but minimizing debt and no delinquencies.

Low appraisals continue to be problematic.  This is a large subject by itself, but the short summary is: Find a good REALTOR to work with, whether you're a buyer or a seller, and avoid over-inflated pricing.

More Trends:

Cash sales continue to decrease; buyers are interested in walkable areas (check the WalkScore for your neighborhood), "green" homes, or older homes with upgraded environmental efficiency, are on the buyer lists in many areas, new home sales are up in some areas (however, older Southern California cities are less impacted by this demographic), rents may increase by as much as 8% in some areas, so buying at today's lower interest rates will still be cheaper than renting.

For a free property search, go to www.juliahuntsman.com Property search page.

Please contact me for a more specific home analysis for your property.  As a licensed REALTOR for over 20 years, I can help whether you have a home or investment property sell.



Some New California Laws for 2016

California laws 2016
New CA laws for 2016
One of the more interesting new laws for 2016 allows transfer of deed without going through probate court.  As a transfer-on-death deed, it allows a homeowner, effective January 1, 2016, to transfer to a named beneficiary a one-to-four unit residential property without going through a probate action.  The property cannot already be part of another will or trust, but must be separate and apart.  So if you have not included a property in your trust, or you don't have a will or trust yet, but you want a property that is yours to go to someone automatically upon your date of death, you may do so by this Transfer on Death Deed, sign and notarized and recorded within 60 days.  It is revocable in case you change your mind.  This a form deed accompanied by 24 FAQs explaining it. The law lasts through January, 2021.  Assembly Bill 139.

There are a number of laws involving no penalties for water use and lawn appearance during a drought.

Extended indefinitely is the victim's rights law to terminate tenancy, where he or she or a household member was a victim of an act of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, elder abuse or human trafficking and that the tenant intends to terminate the tenancy.  The time to give notice has been reduced from 30 days to 14 days.  Assembly Bill 418.

Senate Bill 655 pertains to new mold/habitability standards pertaining to landlord/tenant law. A change from current law, this new law  now provides that a lessor (landlord) is not obligated to repair a dilapidation relating to mold, as specified, until he or she has notice of it, or if the tenant is in substantial violation of the duty to keep the property clean and sanitary, and thereby substantially contributes to the existence of the mold. This law authorizes a landlord to enter a dwelling to repair a dilapidation relating to mold.  There are current definitions about substandard housing, and "this law specifies that visible mold growth, as determined by a health officer or a code enforcement officer, is a type of inadequate sanitation and therefore a substandard condition. However the presence of mold that is minor and found on surfaces that can accumulate moisture as part of their proper and intended use would not constitute a substandard condition."

For a complete list of 2016 laws which also address consumer protection, HOA regulations and drought conditions and FHA disclosures, disclosure required by AirBnB rentals, to name a few, please contact me.  I will be happy to forward them to you.


VA Loans Are Still a Very Good Option for Military Service Members

Benefits for Nation's Heroes
VA loans offer no down payment, competitive interest rates, easier credit standards, and easier loan qualification guidelines. Other loans may be harder to get due to an applicant's frequent moves, but this is not a problem with VA loans.   Interest rates may be .05 to 1% lower than a conventional loan.

These loans are offered to current or former service members who have served for a certain period of time and can obtain a Certificate of Eligibility.

Service members may also obtain USDA loans (not common in metropolitan areas), FHA loans and other conventional loans.  But often the advantages to a VA loan, for those who qualify, are so good they can't pass it up.

VA loans are used both on new purchases and refinances. There is no private mortgage insurance (PMI) found on other loans with low/zero down payment, which saves money from the beginning.

The Department of Veterans Affairs guaranteed 630,000 loans in 2013, an all time high.  To find a qualified VA lender, please contact me, or go to a company such as Veterans United Home Loans.  Not all lenders are well-versed in VA loans, so it pays to get a personal referral to someone in your area.  Please feel free to contact me.


Affordability in the California Housing Market

With the improvement in the California housing market since the "bottom of the market" in 2009, affordability has changed.

California's housing affordability index is at 29 percent, meaning 29 percent of California's homebuyers can afford the median-priced home of $487,420, which is a statewide figure.  The required income is just over $98,000.  To compare, 38 percent of the California population makes an annual income of $78,000 or more.  While not all single buyers may fit this profile, couples able to use both incomes to qualify are more likely to suceed, especially in the lower-priced condo market in certain cities.

In spite of this affordability declining over time, it appears to have stabilized in the 30% range.  Has it affected sales volume? Apparently not, because sales volume has increased 5.7% since the same time last year.
Downtown Long Beach

Will gradually increasing interest rates affect California's housing market?  Hopefully not, if the economy and labor markets continue to stabilize or grow.

What is the Long Beach median single family home price doing?  Here are the latest citywide figures:

 Long Beach condo price for the citywide median price of under $350,000
is posted below:


Cost vs. Value - What Improvement Projects Pay Off?

Sometimes the lower cost improvement may pay off best, especially if the seller is considering fixing up to sell.  See this article for more information on how less is more.

Avoiding Buyer's Remorse--Is That Possible?

Sometimes no matter how much research is done in advance, buyers may still suffer the pangs of remorse after a purchase, and buying a home is no different.  There are seemingly endless disclosures made in a California real estate transaction for buying a residence, but with so much going on after escrow is opened, a buyer should have "eyes open" as much as possible during the home search period.  Searching for homes on the internet, which is performed by almost all buyers in the initial stages, is one part of the home search. 

But in order to avoid the awful feeling that something is wrong after you've closed escrow, try to focus on what are the most important things to you from the very beginning.  For many people, having the right neighborhood, schools, as well as the features of the home itself, are key to their happiness.

Feelings of happiness/regret vary by age, region, demographics and income level.  According to a 2014 study of 2000 adults by Redfin (a large brokerage), if you lived in the West, were over 65,  male, and had an income over $100,000, you were more likely to have less buyer remorse.  For example, 85% of people over 65 said they would buy their home again.  Women with children under the age of 18 (27%) were more likely to express regret. 

How to avoid feeling regret?  Know your local market, i.e., shopping, schools, neighbors and neighborhood, commuting time, as well as loan types and interest rates, buyer competition (or months of inventory) and local list-to-sell percentages.  These are all basic factors about buying a home.  Determine your top priorities - and I do like to remind people that priorities can change as they become familiar with their actual buyer environment.  Knowing the neighborhood may mean knocking on doors to see the people to ask their opinions--a Realtor can go with you for introductions, but your Realtor cannot tell you information that you need to discover personally, if this is important to you. Taking time to order and review property reports, and review transaction documents are essential to homeowner happiness.

There will probably not be a perfect home, but the list of dissatisfactory items will be much shorter the more conscious the buyer is, and the more thought put into, about the home choice.  Not only does this extra work reduce later buyer remorse, but it reduces anxiety.  Prior education, in my opinion, reduces unrealistic expectations and produces more long-term satisfaction.  Going over the buyer/seller contract may seem very dry in the beginning before the home search, but there may be much later reward in owner satisfaction! Taking the time to discuss your opinions of homes you've viewed with the Realtor helps your agent help you.  Realtors know what size bathrooms and closets you can probably expect with a certain age of house, in a given area--most Cerritos homes are more contemporary in style than the majority of Long Beach neighborhoods which date from earlier eras.  This kind of discussion can help you judge if you should change a priority or not. 

Buying a home is a significant purchase, it should be accompanied by a corresponding understanding.


A Few Facts About the California 2016 Housing Market

Every fall a comprehensive report comes out by the California Association of Realtors assessing the current year's activity and projections for the next year.  The second slide shows prior years selling prices and percent change from prior year, interest rates, and affordability indices.

Interestingly, when asked "Which of the following is your dream home?", 32 percent of those surveyed want a Craftsman bungalow, getting the highest number of votes.  Perhaps that's not surprising when you, the audience member, look at the settings for numerous TV shows and home advertisements, i.e., "Blue Bloods" for one. Craftsman homes have lots of wood, warmth and old-fashioned craftsmanship plus a feeling of years of established family ownership in practically all cities in the U.S.

Certainly in Long Beach there are several neighborhoods in which to find one.  But, what does it take to own one?  From 2010, the CA median house price has risen from $305,000 to the current $476,000, and up to a projected $491,000 for 2016.  The good news for buyers is that the rate of increase is slowing to a projected 3.2% increase for next year.  But the other news for buyers is that, as early as December, we may receive the long awaited news about an interest rate increase--already anticipated in the financial markets.  So the rates under 4% for so long are likely to be up to 4.5% next year.  Sales volume is still expected to go higher, hopefully a release from the long-depressed inventory.

Using statewide medians, that 2015 median priced home at $476,000 is probably going to be about $15,000 higher, and the interest rates will be about .5% higher.  Looking at principal and interest only, a mortgage payment could go from $1796.11 (20% down, SP $476,000, 3.99%) to $1990.26 per month for a 2016 $491,000 house at 4.5% interest with same assumptions.

For buyers who do not know any other market except the current very low interest one, this may seem like very foreign territory.  But it's still not such a bad time to buy.

Too see the entire CAR 2016 report in pdf format, click here or see below in ScribD


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