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Latest Realty News from NAR

Yes, Interest on Home Equity Loans is Still Deductible

There’s been confusion since the big tax law was enacted over the deductibility of interest on home equity loans. NAR has been saying that the interest is still deductible for the part of the loan that’s used for home repairs, renovations, and additions. And that’s the correct interpretation, according to the IRS. The agency confirmed that in a memo about a week and a half ago.

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The part of the loan that’s used on the house to fix something or improve it remains deductible under the new tax law. Loan proceeds that are used for personal living expenses or anything not related to improving the home are not deductible.

The clarification is looked at in the latest Voice for Real Estate news video from NAR.

The video also looks at an important vote in the House on so-called drive-by lawsuits. These are lawsuits filed by people who are using accessibility requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act to extract fees from small property owners. People are sending letters to property owners alleging they have an ADA violation and threatening a lawsuit unless the owner reaches a settlement with them. The person sending the letter typically doesn’t even say what the alleged violation is. The only way the owner can find out is by going to court. Most owners end up settling as the cheaper alternative and if there was ever any violation the owner never finds out what it is.

The House passed a bill requiring people who send these letters to identify what the alleged violation is and to give owners a chance to correct the problem before taking them to court. It’s a solution that addresses a clear abuse of an important law and NAR supported its passage. The bill still has to be taken up in the Senate.

Other topics in the video include NAR’s Commitment to Excellence initiative, which will roll out later this year, to give NAR members a chance to voluntarily assess how well they perform on key aspects of their business, including technology, the Code of Ethics, and the forms and contracts they use.

The video also gives an update on home sales—they’re off to a slow start this year, mainly because of inventory shortages in many markets, especially among lower-cost starter homes—and what’s happening in commercial real estate. Briefly, transaction volume on small cap properties is doing okay but volume on large cap properties is slowing down.

Watch and share video.

What’s the Right Way to Structure a Marketing Service Agreement?

Real estate practitioners entering into marketing service agreements with lenders, title companies, and other settlement service providers is a well-established practice, but a recent court decision shows why you have to structure these agreements the right way.

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An appellate court just ruled that it’s okay for a mortgage lender to refer business to mortgage insurers who are buying reinsurance from an affiliate of the lender, because the reinsurance is a bona fide service and the insurers are paying fair market rates for it. In other words, the arrangement doesn’t amount to a kickback.

Although the case involves a lender, insurance companies, and a reinsurer, the structure of the agreement is something that applies to the kind of marketing service agreements you might be involved in as an agent or broker. Any agreement you enter into with a lender or title company must be for actual services rendered and priced at fair market rates and not simply an arrangement for referrals.

How do you ensure a marketing agreement is appropriate under federal anti-kickback rules? The most important thing is to have it looked at by an attorney who’s familiar with the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, or RESPA. For a general idea, though, there are two tests you can apply:

1.Is the marketing fee you receive based on the number of referrals you make to the company, whether it’s a title company, a lender, or another service provider? If the fee corresponds to the number of referrals, you could be inviting a close look by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which is the federal agency that enforces RESPA.

2. If you have an arrangement to split costs on a joint project, like a newspaper ad, is the split reflective of what each of you get in return? For example, if you and the title company are splitting the cost of the ad down the middle, then half the ad should go to the title company and half should go to you. If the title company is covering 75 percent of the cost of the ad but only taking up 25 percent of the space, that split makes it look like the company is subsidizing 50 percent of the ad cost. Again, you could be inviting a close look by the CFPB.

Learn more about the recent court decision in the latest Voice for Real Estate news video from NAR. The video also looks at what was in the budget agreement enacted into law about two weeks ago. Among other things, the new law extends the tax deduction for mortgage insurance premiums and retains the prohibition on taxing forgiven mortgage debt as income. It also looks at why a recent Supreme Court decision on the regulation of bodies of water is important to your inbdustry.

Watch video now.

Robots are Starting to Do Showings

vre 80 stillA company called Zenplace in San Francisco is using robots to help its agents conduct showings. When people arrive at the unit, they’re greeted by what amounts to an iPad on a mobile stand that leads them around, but it’s personalized; it’s the agent’s image and voice that people see and hear. Other companies are coming out with their own versions of this.

It’s a good question whether this type of automation will take off. As people get used to buying goods at automated stores in which everything is done with your phone or credit card and no employees are around, it’s feasible mobile iPads will do the trick at showings.


Screen grab from Zenplace video

Whether you like the idea or not, it’s a trend that’s poised to hit your industry. There are other tech trends you’ll be faced with whether you like them or not. One is a kind of virtual tour that’s more immersive than what you get by just wearing goggles. You get an additional tactile component, because you’re wearing gloves with sensors. Now you feel the door handle when you open the refrigerator as well as see it in multiple dimensions.

Will this be the norm six years from now? Who knows, but now that the genie’s out of the bottle, it’s not likely to get put back in.

REALTOR® Magazine spent a few days at CES in Las Vegas two weeks ago and brought back coverage of all types of tech innovations coming to real estate. CES stands for Consumer Electronics Show and it’s the big showcase each year at which companies try to wow people with what the’re cooking up for us.

You can learn more about CES and also about real estate robots in the latest Voice for Real Estate video. The video also looks at something the U.S. Department of Labor did a few weeks ago that could eventually be important to you because it promises to get the real estate industry one step closer to setting up association health plans (AHPs) for independent contractors.

The agency proposed adding “working owner” to the definition of employer for purposes of setting up AHPs, which would enable sole proprietors and small business owners to ban together for insurance under the large group market, which could make coverage available more cheaply than under the small group market. There remain a lot of hurdles, but this was a crucial step in the right direction.

The video also looks at the three-day federal government shutdown and what could happen to your pipeline of homes sales if there’s another one in a few weeks, which could happen since the short-term budget law expires in early February. If your buyers are applying for FHA-backed financing, they would probably be okay, although processing might take a bit longer. But if they[re buying a new house in a flood area, they might not be able to get flood insurance, and that would mean a delay in  closing.

Watch the video now.

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