New tech makes it seem as if a home can talk

ORLANDO, Fla. – Jan. 8, 2018 – With the capabilities of Amazon Alexa built into a Wi-Fi enabled light switch, tools such as the iDevices Instinct can transform the way people interact with connected accessories in their home.

When a standard light switch is replaced with the Instinct, homeowners gain the functionality of a smart light switch, standalone voice assistant, ambient light sensor and motion detector – all in one product.

“The iDevices Instinct is a breakthrough in the smart home industry. It represents the next evolution in our extensive line of premium connected solutions,” says Chris Allen, president of iDevices.

With the Instinct, homeowners can not only manage connected products, but also listen to music, find a new recipe or get the news. Motion and light sensors allow homeowners to automate lights and receive custom alerts, providing energy savings and peace of mind.

Rather than a device sitting on a table, however, the house itself could seem to respond to commands as long as the homeowner is within voice range of a modified light switch.

The Instinct works in concert with iDevices’ line of smart home solutions and other Alexa-enabled products like the Amazon Echo. The Instinct’s lighting functions can also be controlled with the iDevices Connected app, Apple’s Siri and the Google Assistant. Updates to Instinct’s software occur automatically via Wi-Fi.

The iDevices Instinct will be available later this year.

© 2018 Florida Realtors®

First-timers shouldn’t shy away from housing market

NEW YORK – Jan. 8, 2018 – After the financial crisis, homes were on the market at a deep discount, and potential buyers were scared property values would drop further. Now the situation has flipped, and starter-home buyers fret that escalating prices mean they’ll never obtain a home.

“Housing inventories are still tight as a drum in the starter-home segment,” says Sid Davis, a veteran real estate broker and author of “A Survival Guide for Buying a Home.”

Will 2018 prove a more favorable time for first-timers? Will inventories swell? Will mortgage rates ascend from their near-historic lows? As Davis underscores, no economist can predict the future with certainty. That’s why he and many other real estate specialists urge would-be buyers not to postpone their quest for homeownership.

Svenja Gudell, chief economist for Zillow, which tracks real estate markets throughout the country, says saving for a down payment is a moving target for novice buyers in many communities.

“Sky-high rents and rising home prices are putting first-time buyers in a bit of a catch-22,” Gudell says.

In many metro areas, it now costs nearly as much to rent an apartment as to buy a reasonably sized condo, townhouse or detached property. That’s increased incentives for homeownership, despite the intense competition over scarce listings.

Real estate specialists say a well-planned approach to homeownership helps calm the anxieties of many novices. Here are a few common buyer fears and how to surmount them:

Fear of exposing your credit history to a mortgage lender:
Davis says many would-be homeowners worry how their credit histories will be viewed by mortgage lenders. But he says most such anxieties are usually baseless, even during the present period, when lending standards remain stringent.

Mortgage pre-approval – which lets buyers assess their borrowing capability before they head out to shop for a property – is now easily obtained over the phone. Even so, Davis says some first-timers prefer to go to the lender’s office for pre-approval.

Also, to ensure they’re being quoted a competitive rate for their mortgage, he encourages all buyers to shop lenders before submitting a formal loan application.

“One superb way to find a good mortgage is to go to a small community bank or a credit union. They might give you a better deal than a large bank,” Davis says.

Worry that your family will judge your home choice harshly:
On financial matters, many young first-time homebuyers still look to parents for guidance. But sometimes, the involvement of elders can backfire.

“It’s not unusual for the intervention of parents to blow up a deal for their kids,” Davis says.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with seeking help from your parents. But he says it’s wise to involve them early on – not after you’ve picked out the property and are about to seal the purchase.

“(Parents) tend to highlight the shortcomings of a property the kids like. And this can scotch a deal,” Davis says.

If you’re afraid to go forward without your parents’ help, he suggests you bring them along on your initial house-hunting trips. That way they can compare various alternatives and will likely give you more objective advice.

But Davis cautions young buyers against giving parents a veto over their final property selection, even if they’re helping fund the down payment.

“One approach is to involve parents in your early home shopping trips but then gracefully preclude them from the final decision making-process,” he says.

Fear of making a huge error:
Davis says many wannabe homebuyers become risk averse – worrying they’ll select the wrong property. And such fears are understandable in the aftermath of the housing crisis.

“New buyers often feel they’re walking through a swamp of unknowns. But a lot of their anxieties are needless,” Davis says. He says it’s not uncommon for young buyers seeking emotional safety to keep researching the market rather than make a decision. But in areas where sellers have the upper hand, buyers can forfeit the chance to buy a home they love simply by obsessing too long over the details.

Davis says the best remedy for home-selection anxiety is solid information. Work with an agent who can accurately advise on the true market value of any property you’re considering, thereby reducing your chances of overpaying.

Fear of lacking enough funds to reach the finish line:
Of course, it can be costly to make a housing change at any stage of your life. But Davis says many longtime renters overestimate how much cash they need to become owners.

Granted, low-down-payment conventional mortgages remain harder to obtain than they were before the last recession. But buyers can still get into a first property for little or no down through programs offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs (va.gov) or the Federal Housing Administration (hud.gov). Also, many state and local governments continue to provide first-time buyer assistance programs.

Copyright © 2018 Breeze Publications, Inc., Ellen James Martin. All rights reserved.

Floridians’ top 10 consumer complaints in 2017

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Jan. 3, 2018 – The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services released today the top 10 consumer complaints filed with the department in 2017. Complaints about violations of the state’s Do Not Call list were the most common, followed by complaints related to landlord/ tenant issues. The department says it recovered $2,659,000 for Florida consumers in 2017.

“We are dedicated to protecting Florida’s consumers, and I’m proud that we recovered more than $2.6 million for Floridians this year,” says Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam. “Anyone can call our 1-800-HELP-FLA consumer hotline or visit FreshfromFlorida.com to file a complaint, find information about businesses and professionals and learn how to protect themselves from fraud and scams.”

In 2017, the department received 40,855 complaints and responded to 215,870 calls, 16,247 emails and 11,464 online chats from consumers.

Top 10 complaints

Do Not Call –19,112
Landlord/Tenant – 2,164
Fuel/Petroleum – 1,555
Motor Vehicle Repair – 1,386
Medical Billing – 1,253
Communications – 1,160
Other/Miscellaneous – 1,105
Travel/Vacation Plans – 1,028
Motor Vehicle/Sales Accessories – 1,021
Construction – 973
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is the state’s clearinghouse for consumer complaints, protection and information.

© 2018 Florida Realtors

Study: Lenders approved lower credit scores in 2017

PLEASANTON, Calif. – Jan. 3, 2018 – To attract a larger pool of potential first-time homebuyers, some lenders are making it easier to get a home loan by lowering their FICO score requirements. The latest Ellie Mae Millennial Tracker found there was a slight decline in average scores for closed loans to Millennials year-over-year.

The trend was most pronounced for FHA and VA loans. In November 2016, the average FICO score on a closed FHA refinance loan to a millennial borrower was 678 – but it dropped to 669 in November 2017.

Likewise, average FICO scores on closed VA refinance loans decreased from 725 to 710 year-over-year.

The average FICO score for all closed loans to millennials in November 2016 was 725, while in 2017 it dropped to 723. Comparatively, Ellie Mae’s latest Origination Insight Report showed that the average FICO score for borrowers of all ages who closed loans in November 2016 was 728. It dropped to 722 in November 2017.

“With the average credit score dipping, lenders are extending credit to borrowers who may have had no previous access to the housing market,” says Joe Tyrrell, executive vice president of corporate strategy at Ellie Mae. “While these scores are still significantly above the levels seen a few years ago, it is encouraging to see increased accessibility, especially as the millennial population continues to pursue home ownership.”

Conventional loans remained the most popular loan product for millennial borrowers at 66 percent of total closed loans in November. FHA loans accounted for 30 percent of closed loans for the second month in a row. During this period, VA loans represented just 2 percent of all closed loans. The remaining 3 percent were undisclosed.

Across all loans, the average time to close increased to 44 days, up from 43 days in October. The average time to close FHA loans, however, decreased to 43 days, down from 46 the month prior. Both average days to close conventional loans and VA loans rose, to 43 and 48 days, respectively.

Men continued to make up the majority of primary borrowers, with women making up just one-third (32 percent) of closed loans, which has remained consistent since August. Among women who were listed as the primary borrower, 40 percent identified as married, 59 percent as single and one percent as separated. This is nearly an inverse to male primary borrowers, among which 58 percent were listed as married and 42 percent single.

© 2018 Florida Realtors

Negotiating repairs with an AS IS contract

By Meredith Caruso

Jan. 2, 2018 – One of the most popular contracts Florida Realtors has available for members is the Florida Realtors/Florida Bar “AS IS” Residential Contract for Sale and Purchase (“FR/Bar AS IS”). As the name implies, the seller listed the property “as is,” which means the seller has no obligation to make repairs.

However, many Florida Realtors Legal Hotline calls involve a buyer requesting repairs from a seller after the inspection results come in during the inspection period. While nothing prevents parties from renegotiating the terms of an existing contract, it’s important to understand the nuances and risks in doing so in order to facilitate a smooth transaction.

It’s imperative to recognize this: There is no obligation on the seller’s part to make any repairs, nor to even respond to a request for repairs.

As a buyer’s agent, it’s important to communicate this upfront with buyers because you want to have a plan in place if the seller says “no” or simply doesn’t respond. The buyer has a strong right of cancellation during the inspection period, but once that period expires, that’s it. There may be other contingencies within the contract, but the time to cancel for any reason within the buyer’s sole discretion is gone.

In some cases, a buyer hasn’t heard back from the seller, the end of his inspection period is fast approaching, and he isn’t sure what to do. In this case, your buyer must make a decision: Either stay in the deal and potentially take the property “as is” without the requested repairs or cancel before the inspection period ends.

What if a seller agrees to make repairs?

Assuming the seller does agree to a buyer’s repair request, their agreement should be written into the contract under the additional terms or as an addendum to the contract.

While it seems easy enough to jot something down, however, Realtors should understand the importance of the language used in this repair agreement – and they should also understand the potential liability they’re taking on if they take it upon themselves to draft this addendum.

Is the seller agreeing to fix an electrical problem? Great. But simply stating that the seller will do so is not adequately covering the parties. Far too often, calls to the Legal Hotline involve questions about the way in which the seller completed those agreed-upon repairs. But most of the time, the language used in the repair addendum didn’t address any repair standards or said what would happen if the seller didn’t make the repair at all or did it inadequately by the buyer’s standards.

The Florida Realtors contracts that obligate sellers to make repairs contain additional language regarding repair standards as well as when the repairs should be made. This language isn’t in the FR/Bar AS IS contract.

An addendum that involves many repairs, of varying degrees, likely should be drafted by an attorney to ensure appropriate language is used to protect the buyer and seller.

As stated in articles before, the language in the Florida Realtors contracts varies, and what may be in one isn’t necessarily contained in the other. Recognizing your limitations in assisting your buyer or seller is a good way to avoid running into problems later.

Meredith Caruso is Manager of Member Legal Communications for Florida Realtors

© 2017 Florida Realtors

How to Be More Financially Organized

Ed Pollack (Oceans Lending)

If you’ve resolved to improve your finances in the coming months, you’ll need a solid plan to set yourself up for success. Here are three ways to help you better manage your money in 2018.

Start a budget.
A budget is just a plan for every dollar you earn, and there are a lot of tools to help you strategize. Start with your monthly after-tax income and then list your monthly expenses, including set payments such as the rent or mortgage as well as those that vary, like utilities, credit cards and gas. Don’t forget extras, such as streaming subscriptions, or expenses like car insurance that only crop up a few times a year.

Pay down debt.
Your budgeting process should have identified your debts, so now you need to focus on repayment. Two common methods can help with this: There’s the avalanche approach, which prioritizes your highest-interest debt, and then there’s the snowball method, which focuses on paying back your smallest debts first. While the avalanche method saves you the most money in the long run, some say the small wins of the snowball approach can help keep you on track.

Build an emergency fund.
Having three to six months’ worth of savings can help you avoid relying on high-interest credit cards in the event of a job loss or other emergency. Cutting costs is an obvious first step in unearthing those savings, so try to make more meals at home, take advantage of loyalty programs and avoid small, frequent purchases like morning coffee. Once you’ve saved a little bit, make the most of these funds by placing them where they’ll offer better returns than a traditional savings account.

Getting your finances in order isn’t always fun or easy, but following the guidelines above can help you get off to a good start.

Veterans Online

Why aren’t more veterans taking advantage of the federal mortgage program, IRRRL? If you are a veteran and own a home, you may be able to refi with $0 out of pocket using a “Streamline” refinance. Little paperwork and no Certificate of Eligibility required, why not take advantage? http://bit.ly/2j4yy7J