Pocket Listings Anyone?

CAR just presented an hour webinar on the subject of ‘Pocket Listings’. It becoming a problem the way the market is right now. And agents who are not following the letter of the law will come under increasing scrutiny from the DRE and other regulators. That’s what the rest of us need – more regulations to curb the avarice of a few. Ain’t that the way it goes?

REALTORS® marketing a property for which they have obtained a listing will generally place that listing on the Multiple Listing Service (MLS).  At times, however, listings are not placed into the MLS.  Listings not placed on the MLS are commonly referred to as “pocket listings”. This article will discuss the various legal issues and risks of pocket listings.  Please note that this article references the California Model Multiple Listing Services Rules (Amended February 2013). REALTORS®, however, must comply with their own local MLS rules.  Many local MLSs adopt the Model MLS Rules in its entirety, whereas other MLSs may have slight variations and may have different numbering systems.

II.  Pocket Listings

Q 1. What is a pocket listing?

A A pocket or off-MLS listing generally refers to a listing agreement that an agent has obtained but does not place on the MLS. A “pocket listing” is not a legally-defined term, and can have other meanings as discussed below.

Q 2. Is a pocket listing legal?

A Yes, a pocket listing can be legal. However, a pocket listing raises a number of legal and practical issues that agents should consider and address as discussed below.

For more information on ‘Pocket Listings’, the legality, the ethics, the fiduciary, get the answers from CAR Legal:

Pocket Listings – CAR Legal

9 year fraud battle has a happy ending.

Over the years I’ve written a lot about real estate fraud. Real estate fraud had only just come to our region in a big way back in 2005/2005 and Realtors® were trying to grapple with this new issue. Problem was, nobody else thought it was an issue. Banks didn’t care, law enforcement wasn’t interested, our DA, the Dept. of Real Estate, FBI – you name it, nobody cared.

And over the years I’ve written a lot about the Stonewood Case – a house kiting scheme with some investment undertones. By the time the law finally got on the case, the perp’s were indicted for $143 MILLION dollars. Yeah, not exactly chump change. It really jump started our foreclosure market back in 2006-2007 as these places started to dump back onto the market in ever increasing numbers.

It’s been a 9 year effort led by local Realtors®, some tenacious reporters, our board attorney and a bunch of victims who weren’t afraid to stand up.

Yesterday the last two perp’s were found guilty. Hendrix Montecastro and his mother Helen Padrino. There were 9 people indicted, the others were so guilty they all plead guilty. These two decided to test it in court and act as their own counsel. Yeah, that worked well. So instead of the few or tens of years their cohorts were dealt, Padrino is up for 30+ and Hendrix is down for 100.

All I can say is, he looks a lot better in his orange jumpsuit than he did in the 3 piece Armani’s he used to sport when he’d come into the office to try to intimidate us. Sentencing comes in a couple weeks.

You can read some of the history and testimony here:

http://www.pe.com/business/business-headlines/20130325-fraud-trial-guilty-verdicts-in-multimillion-dollar-ponzi-case.ece

California Homeowners Bill of Rights – New Law for 2013.

The new California Homeowner Bill of Rights becomes law today. If you’re not familiar with this measure, it was a bill carried on behalf of California Attorney General Kamala Harris last year that sought to codify some of the measures set forth in the national mortgage settlement deal struck in early 2012. 

Initially opposed by the California Association of Realtors as well as the California Bankers Association and the California Mortgage Bankers Association, the bill was pushed through the legislature by a closed joint committee  of both houses so when the bill eventually reached the floor, it was voted on immediately and passed to the Governor. Total time in committee, floor and signature was measured in hours rather than days, months or years, as is typical for most bills. 

Due to the secretive nature of the committee structure, there was little opportunity for interest groups to provide input and there was great concern that what emerged would be a very flawed effort reflecting an over reaction to purported lender wrongdoing. However, CAR did have an opportunity to work with the committee to effect some modifications to the final version that removed our opposition to the bill. CAR was not supportive of the bill in its final version but adopted a neutral position, although banking groups remained steadfast in their opposition due to to concerns about meritless litigation that the bill opens up for aggreaved homeowners. 

Here’s what the bill does:

  • Stops dual tracking. Once the process has started for either a loan modification or short sale by the lender, the foreclosure process must be stopped. This is in response to cases where the property proceeds along multiple courses at the same time only to have the foreclosure process conclude days ahead of a short sale approval by another arm of the bank. As pointed out, this frequently resulted in the bank taking the property back and ultimately receiving thousands less in the foreclosure sale than they would have in a short sale. Of course we know the banks are covered either way and really don’t care but ultimately this should result in more short sales and fewer foreclosures, which is better for the recovering market.
  • Under the dual tracking provisions, banks must give an applicant a response to their loan modification before they can start the foreclosure process. If a homeowner has not applied for a loan modification, the bank must inform them of their right to do so before starting the foreclosure process.
  • No more robo signing.
  • Banks must provide a single point of contact to borrowers trying for a loan modification or short sale. Homeowners and Realtors are often frustrated by multiple points of contact and the handoff fr5om one agent to  another within a bank frequently resulting in the loss of paperwork sending the process back to square one while the foreclosure process continues apace in another department.
  • Allows the borrower to sue loan servicers if the borrower thinks they have violated any foreclosure laws. This is one of the most worrisome components of the bill in that it may open the door to frivolous lawsuits resulting in increased costs and unnecessary delays in an already costly and time consuming process. 

With nearly 1 million foreclosures recorded in the state since 2007, California remains one of the hardest hit areas of the country. However, foreclosures are down in most areas by 30% or more in the past year and with prices starting to climb across the state, the hope is that fewer and fewer people will be pushed into foreclosure anyway. Some 30% of state homeowners remain underwater in their loans but the combination of improving employment statistics and home price increases has decreased that by more than 5% in the past year.

The Homeowners Bill of Rights may well provide some relief for harried homeowners and produce further delays to the process, but it will do little to change the underlying ability of a homeowner to ultimately afford their home and will, in most cases, only delay the inevitable. If Sacramento and DC don’t screw it up, an improving economy will do more to aid homeowners than the HBR will ever accomplish – and ultimately that’s the best news for everybody. 

…The Light at the End of a Very Long Tunnel

CoreLogic® has just published their most recent Home Price Index showing a 3.8% rise in home prices for July marking the 5th consecutive month of year-over-year increases. They are forecasting an increase of 4.6% in August and are now anticipating that we will see a gain for the full year.

In this month’s Realtor® Report, you’ll find that housing  activity in Southwest California is running slightly ahead of these national numbers with year-over-year increases of 6% in both July and August putting us ahead of 2011 median price by 5% year to date. Temecula posted its 6th consecutive monthly median over $300,000 and its highest month since April 2008  ($347,985).

Sales were down somewhat in August, at least in part due to our increasingly severe inventory shortage. Demand activity remains strong and if we had more homes to sell, they would be selling. Year-to-date sales are 9% ahead of 2011 (4,963/5,454) and still running 4% ahead of 2010 (5,228/5,454) keeping us on pace to set a new high water mark for the region, but our inventory is down 62% since January.

Back in June, I updated you on a bill H.R. 5823. Authored by California Congressman Gary Miller, the “Saving Taxpayers from Unnecessary GSE Bulk Sales Act of 2012” follows months of direct lobbying to the FHFA and others to carve California out of their proposed pilot program to remove hundreds of homes from our inventory and convert them to rentals for 5 years in an ‘effort to stabilize the market’.

The bill is still languishing in committee. Meanwhile the FHFA has announced its intention to proceed with the program and remove 500 for-sale homes in LA and Riverside County to fire-sale to an investor as rentals by year-end. Even if we knew how they were selecting these homes, where they were located and who they were going to sell them to, this would still be a bad program. The fact that we don’t know any of those things only makes it worse.

I would like to thank the Riverside County Board of Supervisors, the Southwest California Legislative Council and the Cities of Temecula and Murrieta (so far) for joining Realtors® in SUPPORTING H.R. 5823 and opposing this FHFA program. Simply stated, the goal of this program is to stabilize the market by removing  ‘excess inventory’. But our region has no excess inventory, there is strong demand for the properties we have and our prices have been stable for 3+ years and have recently started to appreciate. This program would make it even more difficult for qualified buyers to find a home in our communities while exposing our neighborhoods to numerous rentals owned by an absentee landlord (hedge fund) just waiting out their 5 years to dump them back onto the market.

To get all the numbers behind the local real estate market as well as more information on how you can join the coalition supporting HR 5823, visit: http://www.slideshare.net/genewunderlich/9-realtor-report

 

Waited Too Long?

If you’re waiting for mortgage rates or house prices to hit bottom, you may have delayed too long.

Among the housing trends you can expect to see this spring: Potential homebuyers will find increased competition when shopping for a home this spring, as more bargain hunters get off the fence. Investors also will continue to take advantage of the opportunity to buy low.

Rising mortgage rates will serve as a warning to borrowers who thought the low rates would last forever. More bad news: Some mortgages will cost more this spring because of higher loan fees.

Most of the good news goes to refinancers and underwater homeowners. Millions of borrowers will have the opportunity to refinance their mortgages through two government programs that make the refinancing process easier and cheaper.

The Federal Housing Administration, or FHA, reduced loan fees for these borrowers, and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac removed many of the obstacles that prevented borrowers who were upside down from refinancing.

Here are some of the housing trends you should expect to see for spring 2012.

Mortgage rates rise but won’t skyrocket

 

Many borrowers missed the record-low mortgage rates seen earlier this year, but they still have a chance to grab low rates this spring.

Mortgage rates have bounced from the bottom, and it’s unlikely they’ll drop back to record lows, but there’s no need to panic. Mortgage experts don’t expect rates to skyrocket anytime soon.

The Mortgage Bankers Association’s latest forecast indicates that the rate on the 30-year fixed mortgage will average about 4.3 percent in the second quarter. That’s up from the first quarter’s average of 4.16 percent in Bankrate’s weekly survey. But 4.3 percent would still be low, especially when you compare it to the 6 percent or 7 percent borrowers paid at the height of the housing boom.

The recent jump in rates comes as investors become more confident. Still, the picture is far from rosy, as nearly 13 million people remain unemployed.

“It takes a paycheck to pay a mortgage,” says Jay Brinkmann, chief economist and senior vice president of research for the MBA. “Mortgages aren’t paid with percentage points on (gross domestic product).”

Until the labor market improves, it is unlikely mortgage rates will spike, Brinkmann says.

Buyers face fierce competition with investors

 

Attractive mortgage rates, low home prices and rising rents make the current housing market the perfect opportunity for investors. When looking for bargains, homebuyers will continue to compete with investors.

“This is true particularly at the lower end of the market and with first-time homebuyers” says Jed Smith, managing director of quantitative research for the National Association of Realtors.

One of the strongest recent housing trends: Many investors pay cash. These cash offers are an obstacle for buyers who need mortgages because sellers prefer buyers who can pay cash to close quickly, Smith says.

Investors bought about 23 percent of the homes sold in January, according to the NAR’s latest numbers. That’s up from 21 percent in December, and that trend is not expected to shift this spring.

“Rents are going up, and as long as there are properties at the level where investors can get the positive cash flow, they will continue to invest,” Smith says.

Homebuyers are expected to get off the fence

 

Homebuyers waiting for prices to hit bottom may soon get off the sidelines, industry experts say.

“We’re starting to pick up on the purchase side,” says Ed Conarchy, a mortgage planner at Cherry Creek Mortgage in Gurnee, Ill. “I don’t think you’ll go back to (the home purchase activity we had in) ’06 anytime soon, but this is the best that we have seen in a while.”

The price gap is closing between what sellers expect to get for their homes and what buyers pay, Brinkmann says. That’s one reason home sales are improving.

As consumer confidence and rents rise, more renters will want to become homeowners, Smith says.

The trend already has started, according to a recent study by Kingsley Associates, a San Francisco-based real estate research and consulting firm. About 59.5 percent of the tenants surveyed in the study said they intend to renew their leases this year. That is the lowest rate since early 2009 on renters’ intention to renew leases. The rate was 63.7 in the fourth quarter of 2010.

“We still have a slow recovery, but I think we’ll start to see additional sales,” Smith says.

Refinances get easier, cheaper

 

Homeowners who have FHA-insured mortgages and who are current on their payments will be able to refinance with lower fees through the FHA streamline refinance program starting in June. Only loans that closed before June 2009 are eligible to be refinanced in the program.

The FHA will reduce loan fees by more than half on streamline refis. As of June 11, borrowers who refinance through the FHA streamline program will pay only 0.01 percent of the loan in upfront insurance fees and 0.55 percent in annual mortgage fees.

Another government program, known as HARP 2.0, will make it easier for thousands of borrowers to refinance their mortgages this spring.

The revamped version of the Home Affordable Refinance Program allows borrowers to refinance regardless of how underwater they are on their mortgages. Some lenders say they are focused on refinancing mortgages on loans they currently service, for now, but others accept any applicant who qualifies for HARP 2.0. To qualify, your mortgage must be owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, your payments must be current, and your mortgage must have closed by June 2009.

Some will have to pay more for mortgages

 

Unless you get a HARP or FHA streamline refi, you will likely pay more for a mortgage this spring because Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the FHA increased their loan fees in April.

Homebuyers with small down payments will pay significantly more for FHA mortgage insurance premiums.

“Those who don’t have credit scores in the high 600s, low 700s may be forced to go the FHA route,” Conarchy says. “And will be stuck with the higher fees.”

A borrower who takes out a $200,000 FHA loan should expect to pay about $3,500 upfront for mortgage insurance. The fee is 1.75 percent of the loan total. Before the increase, the borrower would have paid a $2,000 fee for the same loan.

Annual insurance premiums went up, too. For a $200,000 loan, the monthly premium is about $208 per month. That’s about $17 more per month than what it would have cost before the increase.

In June, the FHA increased the annual insurance for loans greater than $625,500. A borrower who lives in a high-cost area and takes out the maximum $729,750 (which is the FHA limit for high-cost areas) will pay $912 each month in mortgage insurance alone.

 

Half Empty or Half Full

It’s all in the perspective. A recent media article featured data from a report by  RealtyTrac showing that the Riverside-San Bernardino area remains #3 in the nation for foreclosure activity. I cringe when I see these kinds of articles. Because while the underlying report data is accurate, a reporter, who typically knows little about real estate, has no idea what the data means. They have no perspective, thus their summaries are often misleading to their readers causing unwarranted confusion and concern.

For example, data shows that Murrieta has 1 home in every 149 in foreclosure for a total of 264 ‘foreclosures’. Temecula was close behind with 258 ‘foreclosures’ and 1 in 152 households, Lake Elsinore had 147 ‘foreclosures’ with 1 in 151 households. They then compared our region with the national average of 1 in 686, making us sound pretty bad off.

But while the data is accurate – the media interpretation is not, or at least incomplete.

So, as Paul Harvey used to say, “Now, the rest of the story…” I’ll use Murrieta’s numbers, since that’s what the article used, but the statistics and comparables are very similar across all markets in Southwest California.

First, it’s not surprising that our area still ranks high on the foreclosure scale – after all it was just a few years back that we were among the top three in the nation with Sacramento and Stockton (which still rank #1 & #2). But rather than 264 homes going back to the bank as the article intimated, there were just 140 in June for Murrieta, down 43% from last June. And only 25 of those are actively on the market for sale. Bank-owned homes as a percentage of our market has continued to decline to just 7% of our active market in July. The number of both REO and Short Sales on the market has dropped by half since January.

Preforeclosure delinquencies are down 8% for the region, and Notices of Sales (NOS) are down 28%. The only number that bumped up slightly in June was Notices of Default (NOD), which were up 3% (68 to 70). The rest are in some stage of the foreclosure process but may never revert to the bank. Homes actually going back to the bank are down 68% from last June, 3rd party (courthouse step) sales are down 22% and cancellations of foreclosure sales by banks are up 17%.

Two additional trends are affecting our market right now. First, after long delays and numerous moratoriums, banks may finally be starting to move more aggressively on properties that have been in foreclosure for 1, 2 or 3+ years. This ‘shadow inventory’ concern has been hampering a sustainable recovery in housing. It’s past time for an honest accounting – by the banks and by delinquent sellers. We’re also seeing a slight up-tick in foreclosure activity on homes that were granted loan modification 2 – 3 years ago but have subsequently fallen back into foreclosure.

Second, counteracting the increased foreclosure activity is an apparent willingness and/or ability of banks to successfully complete short sales. Maybe they finally figured out they make more money on a short sale and that it’s less deleterious to the market. Rising median prices also means fewer people under water which means more people able to refinance at today’s record low rates into more affordable mortgages.

So there you have it. Yes we are still #3 in the country for ‘foreclosure activity’ and with 1 in 150 homeowners still being affected that’s not great. Compared to North Dakota with just 3 foreclosures in the whole state and a ration of 1 in 105,833 homeowners in default, we look pretty dismal. It’s all in your perspective.

But we’re still selling homes at a record pace this year and our prices are inching up. Compared to where we were four years ago, or even a year ago, we’re headed in the right direction. They didn’t tell you that.

RealtyTrac, a trusted source of foreclosure information, publishes a nifty little ‘Heat Map’ showing foreclosure activity by zip code for any area of the country. If you’re curious, it’s a great way to spend a little time when you’re not on facebook. Here’s the data http://www.realtytrac.com/trendcenter/trend.html & here’s the local numbers: Perspective. http://www.slideshare.net/genewunderlich/8-realtor-report-13973332.

 

SRCAR Hosts City Managers Forum

The Southwest Riverside County Association of Realtors recently held their 3rd annual ‘Breakfast with the City Managers’ event and featuring Bob Johnson (Temecula), Rick Dudley (Murrieta), Frank Oviedo (Wildomar), Bill Rawlings (Menifee) and Tom Evans (Lake Elsinore).  The event is one of the highlights of the year for many members and this year was no different.

City Managers reminded us how fortunate we are to be living and working in our communities. Our cities may not exactly be thriving during these challenging times but they are all doing way better than most. Despite last year’s pilferage of redevelopment funds and the added insult of stripping VLF funds equaling 22% of Wildomar’s budget and 18% of Menifee’s, infrastructure improvements, job attraction and parks continue to figure prominently in each city’s action plan.

Every city is also experiencing some degree of revitalization as well. Unemployment rates are lower in our region than the national average and significantly lower than the rest of Riverside  County. There are new apartment buildings going up in Temecula and 5 new housing tracts under development in Wildomar. New restaurants, shops and businesses are starting to fill in some of those shuttered buildings that have populated our region for the past few years. Public safety in our cities is among the best in the nation as is our education system. While there have been some municipal lay-offs, our cities have been able to negotiate with their employees and service providers to maintain a high level of service to residents within the economic realities of our times.

All acknowledge that there are still challenges ahead for our region. One manager opined that it might be 20 years before the cities see a return to the level of property tax revenue they enjoyed just four years ago. But as the cities diversify their base that becomes less significant. Temecula currently gets only about 10% of its budget from property taxes while Menifee, one of our newest cities, relies on property taxes for nearly 50% of their budget. An aggressive business attraction plan aims to reduce that dependency over the next few years.

Both Murrieta and Temecula have held discussion about the merits of becoming a charter city and you’ll be hearing more about that. The managers  also shared the challenges and frustrations of dealing with some aspects of our state and federal government. One recent example was the state’s last minute decision to  recalibrate the way they assess the cities and gave cities a three day payment window or be assessed penalties. Two of our cities took hits of nearly $2 million dollars, the others lost lesser amounts. It can be vexing to be a pro-business region in California.

Should you have an opportunity to visit with any of our local City Managers, you will find them most helpful and ready to expound on the positive things happening in our region. While each city strives to maintain its own identity and be the best for its own residents, there is a great sense of shared community among the cities acknowledging that a business gain in Lake Elsinore benefits Menifee, a new overpass in Temecula is good for Murrieta traffic and a new brewpub in Wildomar would be good for me. Talk to your City Managers. They are good folks and eager to keep our cities moving in the right direction.

Temecula Valley Housing – An Overview

There’s no doubt the Temecula Valley is one of the nicest, safest and most affordable places to live in Southern California. The climate is terrific, the schools are great, we have sports parks and dog parks and a duck pond, wineries, golf courses & a casino and our city is well run with a budget surplus. From Temecula you can be skiing Big Bear in the morning, surfing La Jolla in the afternoon and be home in time to enjoy a jazz concert at a winery  in the evening. There’s something here to fit every lifestyle – unless you want to live in a high rise in a big city and take the subway to work. We don’t have that.

We do offer a wide range of housing opportunities  from condo’s for first time homebuyers to retirement villages; avocado groves & equestrian estates to vineyards; Mediterranean to New England style single family homes; homes on a golf course to homes on a lake –  Temecula has something for every prospective homeowner.

So how do you find out more about this amazing market? Start by finding a Realtor® that can guide you through the process. Oh, you can start by looking at home on-line. Today about 70% of you will start there. But there are so many beautiful homes you’ll soon find yourself trying to narrow that search to specific areas. Maybe the school district is important to your growing family, or being close to medical facilities is important for special needs, or you need room for your horses or you’ve always dreamed of living on a golf course. Your Realtor® can guide you to those neighborhoods that fit your lifestyle best.

Some of you will start by talking to a lender to find out how much home you can afford. That’s a great idea too. It’s a good idea to start with a lender that already knows you – or at least a bank that you’ve done business with. But if you’re new to the area you probably don’t know a lender and picking one out of the phone book might not be your best place to start.

A good Realtor® can direct you to good lenders, ones they know from experience can get the job done for you with a minimum of hassle. Some lenders have better programs than others depending on your situation – everything from no-down or low-down government backed loans, to loans with extremely low interest rates for well qualified buyers with large down payments. There are different options for 1st time buyers, investors, military personnel, move-up buyers and seniors and your Realtor® and lender will work together on the best deal for you and your family.

To find a Realtor®, start with the Chamber of Commerce. By being a member of the Chamber, a business owner has already demonstrated their interest in and commitment to the community. Don’t be afraid to talk to more than one Realtor® – because just like you, we’re all different too. Some are all business – cut to the chase kind of folks, others are more touchy-feely warm & fuzzy, others you don’t know what the heck they are.

You’re going to be working with this person for the next few weeks or months on the biggest investment most of you will ever make. Having a good Realtor® on your team is the difference between a pleasant and profitable experience, and one that will have you gnashing your teeth living in a cave.

A couple final thoughts… As with much of the country, we’ve just come through the worst real estate market in years. You’ll be looking at homes that were selling for double their current asking price just a few years ago. But our prices have been stable for three years now and have started to increase again. You’re buying at, or close to, the bottom of this cycle. Last time prices started to boom our housing appreciated 155% in just 5 years. We’re not looking for, in fact not hoping for, a repeat of that cycle but long term appreciation in California real estate is inevitable.

We also have about 1/3 of the inventory we had just last year so finding your dream home might take a little longer. There are many beautiful properties out there at terrific prices. When you find the one you love, don’t be surprised if several other folks love it as well. Multiple bids are not unusual in this market so don’t make the mistake of thinking you can steal your dream home. Lowball bids today will almost assure that you will lose the first two or three homes you bid on. On the other hand, if you’re an investor looking for bargain prices on fixers or rentals, those are out there too. Again, your Realtor® can guide you along the most prosperous path for you.

The Temecula Valley lifestyle – your piece of history looking to the future. Start enjoying it today. Call your Realtor® to find out how.

More Light – Less Tunnell

That was the message delivered at our California Association of Realtors Mid-year Legislative meetings as well as our National Association of Realtors Legislative Conference held last month. The focus is shifting from looking over our shoulder at ‘how we got here’ to looking forward to ‘where we go from here’. There is an undercurrent of cautious optimism about the housing market borne out by strong sales results in our local market and in a growing number of  markets across the country.

In weeklong conferences with legislative and regulatory leaders in Sacramento and Washington DC, Realtors stressed the critical role of homeownership as a lynchpin in the economic recovery of this country. At a May 17th Rally where nearly 14,000 Realtors gathered at the Washington Monument, we reminded them that in 6 of the past 8 recessions, the recovery has been lead by an emergent housing market. The other 2 were lifted out by massive war spending, so unless they want to start another war they should probably focus on housing at this juncture. Homeownership matters!

We talked with lenders about their foreclosure efforts, about streamlining the shortsale process, about helping homeowners who were honest victims of their housing manipulations and about getting back into the lending business by sharing some of the bail-out money we lavished on them.

We discussed the importance of mortgage availability and secondary market liquidity with leaders from Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae and the FHA. In both Sacramento and DC we demonstrated the critical lack of housing inventory in California and cautioned against the widespread implementation of the poorly conceived FHFA Bulk Sale Program (detailed here last month).

Three years ago we were treated to a discussion of the ’emerging green shoots’ by former FED Chair Allan Greenspan, shoots that were subsequently scorched by over-reaching and reactionary regulatory policies. The opportunity still exists for the current optimism to be quashed by knee-jerk decisions, lack of action in some arenas – over-reaction in others.

Elimination of the homeowners mortgage interest deduction is one example. Not extending deficiency judgment protection for underwater homeowners, not renewing the national flood insurance program and wholesale dismantling of Fannie & Freddie are still more examples of misguided efforts on the part of legislators and regulators who 1) don’t understand housing and job creation, and 2) have not considered the unintended consequences of their actions.

The events that brought us here are behind us. Most of the perpetrators will never suffer the consequences of their actions and, in fact, continue to prosper under the current regulatory regime. Time to move on. We endured a near perfect storm of events that brought us to the brink of fiscal disaster as a nation but we are entering a brief window of opportunity right now to keep the nascent recovery moving. The fits and starts of the past 4 years notwithstanding, we have an opportunity to move the housing market forward and with it our national economy.

Being an election year, we are probably assured that no really good or bad bills will emanate from Congress before November (Sacramento may still deliver up a few clinkers). Similarly, the lame-ducks in Sacramento and DC will accomplish little before the new year. Whether or not the recovery proceeds and strengthens will depend on the decisions you make in November. If you are a homeowner or aspire to home ownership, and especially if you consider homeownership to be a legacy you want for your children, please make an informed decision when you vote this fall. So much depends on it.

Do you qualify for a refi?

The White House, Washington

Hello —

President Obama’s plan to give mortgage relief to responsible homeowners boils down to one important principle. He wants to simplify the refinancing process.

And the very first step is to let people know if they would benefit from the President’s proposal — so we’ve built a tool to help answer that question.

Just enter a few basic facts about your mortgage, and this tool will help you figure out if you currently qualify for easy, low-cost refinancing — or whether, like millions of families, you need Congress to act to help you lower your interest rate.

Get started now.  

As tens of thousands of people have spoken up and written in to the White House, we’ve heard one message loud and clear: The refinancing process is anything but easy to navigate.

Even homeowners who have done everything right and made all their payments on time are getting caught up in unnecessary red tape. Sitting down and reading through some of these stories is a powerful reminder of why it’s so important that we get this done right away.

One mom in Maryland, raising two teenage boys by herself, wrote in to say that she’s working 15 hour days to make her mortgage payments and keep current on her bills. Another family from Illinois is hoping to lower their mortgage payments so they can help pay for college for their kids. One woman in Arkansas called the President’s plan a “no brainer” and talked about how much good it would do for the broader economy.

So if you are like these people and think that both you and our economy could stand to benefit from the President’s refinancing plan, give the tool a try, then take a moment to share it with your friends:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/refi

Thanks,

Brian

Brian Deese
Deputy Director
National Economic Council

Simpler mortgage rules on the horizon?

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau considers rules to simplify mortgage points and fees
By Ashley Gordon

Rules would bring greater transparency to the mortgage market

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) outlined rules it is considering that would simplify mortgage points and fees and bring greater transparency to the mortgage loan origination market. These rules, which the CFPB expects to propose this summer and finalize by January 2013, would make it easier for consumers to understand mortgage costs and compare loans so they can choose the best deal.

“Mortgages today often come with so many different types of fees and points that it can be hard to compare offers,” said CFPB Director Richard Cordray. “We want to bring greater transparency to the market so consumers can clearly see their options and choose the loan that is right for them.”

The 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank) places certain restrictions on the points and fees offered with most mortgages. The CFPB is considering proposals that would:

  • Require an Interest-Rate Reduction When Consumers Elect to Pay Discount Points: Discount points are a fee, expressed as a percentage of the loan amount, to be paid by the consumer to the creditor at the time of loan origination in return for a lower interest rate. Discount points can benefit consumers by allowing them to reduce their monthly loan payments. The CFPB is considering proposals to require that any discount point must be “bona fide,” which means that consumers must receive at least a certain minimum reduction of the interest rate in return for paying the point.
  • Require Lenders to Offer Consumers a No-Discount-Point Loan Option: It is often difficult for consumers to compare loan offers that have different combinations of points, fees, and interest rates. Under the proposal under consideration, consumers must also be offered a no-discount-point loan. This would enable the homebuyer to better compare competing offers from different lenders.
  • Ban Origination Charges that Vary with the Size of the Loan: Brokerage firms and creditors would no longer be allowed to charge origination fees that vary with the size of the loan. These “origination points” are easily confused with discount points. Instead, under the rules the CFPB is considering, brokerage firms and creditors would be allowed to charge only flat origination fees.

In addition to regulating origination points and fees, the proposals the CFPB is considering would also address mortgage loan originators’ qualifications and compensation. Mortgage loan originators, who take mortgage loan applications from consumers seeking to buy a home or refinance a mortgage, include mortgage brokers and loan officers. The rules the CFPB is considering would:

  • Set Qualification and Screening Standards: Under state law and the federal Secure and Fair Enforcement Act, loan originators currently have to meet different sets of standards, depending on whether they work for a bank, thrift, mortgage brokerage, or nonprofit organization. The CFPB is considering rules to implement Dodd-Frank requirements that all loan originators be qualified. The proposal would help level the playing field for different types of loan originators so consumers could be confident that originators are ethical and knowledgeable:

-Character and Fitness Requirements: All loan originators would be subject to the same standards for character, fitness,
and financial responsibility;
-Criminal Background Checks: Loan originationators would be screened for felony convictions; and
-Training Requirements: Loan originators would be required to undertake training to ensure they have the knowledge
necessary for the types of loans they originate.

  • Prohibit Paying Steering Incentives to Mortgage Loan Originators: In 2010, the Federal Reserve Board issued a rule that prohibits loan originators from directing consumers into higher priced loans because they could earn more money. The Dodd-Frank Act requires the CFPB to issue rules as well. The proposals the CFPB is considering would reaffirm the Board’s rule, which bans the practice of varying loan originator compensation based on interest rates or certain other loan terms. The CFPB’s proposal would also clarify certain issues in the existing rule that have created industry confusion.

The proposals that the CFPB is considering are designed to preserve consumers’ choices while increasing transparency. In developing a formal proposal, the CFPB plans to engage with consumers and industry, including a Small Business Review Panel that will meet with a group of representatives of the small financial services providers that would be directly affected by the proposals under consideration. The documents that the CFPB will be sharing with these small providers include an overview of the proposals under consideration and a list of questions for input. The small provider representatives will provide feedback to the panel on the proposals the CFPB is considering and suggest alternatives. The Panel will issue a report summarizing this feedback, which the CFPB will consider when formulating the proposed rules.

A “fact sheet” summarizing the Panel process can be found here: http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201205_CFPB_public_factsheet-small-business-review-panel-process.pdf

An overview of the rules under consideration can be found here: http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201205_cfpb_MLO_SBREFA_Outline_of_Proposals.pdf

A list of questions for the Panel’s input can be found here: http://files.consumerfinance.gov/f/201205_cfpb_MLO_SERs_Questions.pdf

The public can email the CFPB their comments and feedback atMortgageLoanOrigination@cfpb.gov.

The CFPB plans to publish a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking this summer, which will be followed by a formal public comment period. The rules will be finalized by January 21, 2013.

SRCAR Endorses Kevin Jeffries for Supervisor Seat.

Two Influential Realtor Associations Endorse Jeffries
First and Only Candidate Ever Endorsed by Both Local Associations


(Riverside, CA) – Kevin Jeffries announced today that his campaign for Riverside County Supervisor (1st District) has received a pair of important endorsements from both the Southwest Riverside County Association of REALTORS and the Inland Valleys Association of REALTORS.

Both Associations advance the American dream of home ownership for families while promoting and maintaining high standards of conduct for local real estate professionals.

“Kevin Jeffries has been an unwavering advocate of home ownership for Riverside County families. Kevin has worked at both the state and local level to help keep fees and taxes low for homeowners” said Joe McGowan, Chairman of the Southwest Riverside County Association of Realtors.

“Kevin has not only worked to help jump-start our distressed housing market by proposing tax breaks for first time homebuyers, he has also been an unwavering advocate for private property rights” said Steve Manos, President of the Inland Valleys Association of REALTORS located in Riverside.

“Like thousands of Riverside County families, Riverside County Realtors have been living with the meltdown of our economy and the housing market. They know I’m going to be fighting to turn our local economy around and that affordable housing is a key part of our future recovery,” said Jeffries.

As an advocate on behalf of Riverside County homeowners and families since his 1990 election to a local water district, Jeffries was often a leading voice to oppose water and sewer rate increases, as well as the placement of unfair water “standby” taxes on homeowner property tax bills. Jeffries also led efforts at the State Capitol to provide first time homebuyers with tax breaks. Today Jeffries is currently leading an effort to repeal a soon to be implemented $150 special state fire prevention tax on nearly 800,000 homeowners across the state and portions of Riverside County.

This announcement comes just weeks after the Riverside County Farm Bureau announced their endorsement of Jeffries for Supervisor, according to Stacy Nicola with the Jeffries campaign.

 

# # #

Temecula, Murrieta among nations safest cities again.

Finally there’s a national statistic that shows parts of California in a positive light – and two of my cities are at the top of the heap. Business Insider.com recently released their analysis of FBI statistics for 2010 showing the 13 safest cities in America along with the 25 most dangerous. California scored 6 out of the 13 safest and just 3 of the 25 most dangerous.

According to FBI stats, violent crime, including murder, forcible rape, robbery and aggravated assault, is down across the country by 5.5%. That’s pretty good considering the economic situation. You might imagine just the opposite would be happening but so far so good.

For at least the 2nd year in a row Irvine California ranks #1 in safety with almost 10 times less than the national average crime rate – just 55 crimes per 100,000 people with Zero murders and 30 robberies. Contrast this with the most dangerous city in the country, Flint MI, with 2,208 violent crimes per 100,000 including 49 murders and 84 forcible rapes.

Southwest County again scored well. For the past couple years Murrieta has ranked #2 behind Irvine, with Temecula coming in at 4 or 5. This year Temecula leapfrogged to #2 and Murrieta came in 4th. Temecula had just 72 violent crimes per 100,000 with 3 rapes while Murrieta had 95 violent crimes and 1 murder. Considering that each city has just over 100,000 population, that means there really were only 72 violent crimes in Temecula last year. Applying the same count for #2 Detroit with 1,887 violent crimes per 100,000 and a population of 800,000 gives you a crime spree of nearly 19,000 violent crimes and 340 murders last year. Yowza!

The 13 safest:
Irvine CA
Temecula CA
Cary NC
Murrieta CA
Gilbert AZ
Red Rock TX
Frisco TX
Simi Valley CA
Bellevue WA
Orange CA
Amherst Town NY
Thousand Oaks CA
Surprise AZ

The 25 most dangerous:

Flint MI
Detroit MI
St. Louis MO
New Haven CT
Memphis TN
Oakland CA
Little Rock AK
Baltimore MD
Rockfort IL
Stockton CA
Buffalo NY
Springfield MA
Cleveland OH
Hartford CN
Washington DC
Springfield IL
Philadelphia PA
Lowell MA
Richmond CA
Saint Petersburg FL
Nashville TN
Kansas City MO
Miami FL
Lansing MI
Elizabeth NJ

I Survived Real Estate 2011

For the past four years Bruce Norris, founder of The Norris Group has presented a forum entitled ‘I Survived Real Estate (2011)’ at the Richard Nixon Library. The event, attracting more than 400 real estate and investment leaders from California and beyond, is both an informational evening with panels discussing real estate trends, as well as a fund raiser for The Susan G. Komen Foundation. As a fundraiser the event has been singularly successful, raising over $250,000 for breast cancer research during the past four years. This year’s event was especially poignant as Bruce lost his own wife to the disease earlier this year after a courageous seven year battle.

Norris has over 30 years of real estate experience and more than 2,000 real estate transactions as a buyer, seller, builder and capitol partner. He is an award winning author, hosts a weekly radio program, is a frequent speaker throughout the state and is the founder of The Norris Group, one of the premier real estate investment resources in California. The ‘I Survived Real Estate’ event brings together a number of industry leaders to discuss their often disparate views of the housing industry and answer questions posed by Norris.

This year’s panel included Fannie Mae Chief Economist Doug Duncan, Foreclosure Radar President Sean O’Toole, National Association of Realtors First Vice President Gary Thomas, Chair-elect of the Mortgage Bankers Association Debra Still, President-elect of the Appraisal Institute Sara Stephens and iTulip Founder Eric Janszen.

Duncan, recently named one of the nation’s top four most accurate economists by the Wall Street Journal, discussed the future of his organization in light of President Obama’s call to eliminate Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac within the decade. Duncan believes this will be a positive step forward as a way to minimize the government’s role in the housing industry and promote private industry’s participation in the market.

This has been a very controversial position as Fannie, Freddie and the FHA, currently underwrite more than 90% of mortgage loans on the market today. Many would argue that there would not be a mortgage market without them. Duncan acknowledged the validity of this claim but offered that the gradual phase-out as called for by the administration will allow alternative financing methods to be developed and that negative impact to the market would be minimal.

Thomas, in line to be the President of the National Association of Realtors in 2013 indicated the industry is very concerned with the plan, or lack there-of. “Without Fannie & Freddie in place there would not have been a mortgage written since 2007,” according to Thomas. “Private lenders are risk averse right now as a result of getting burned by their own exotic inventions during the early part of the decade and stepped away from the market at a time we needed them most. NAR will work very aggressively to make sure whatever programs remain in place are in the best interest of the American consumer.”

The panel also addressed concerns over the massive bail-outs orchestrated by the federal government and their impact on the economy. Janszen, a long-time financial and economic market analyst, added ‘there is really no consensus on the efficacy of the programs’, noting that many believed the programs were little more than ‘print and pray’ exercises with our money. Duncan and Still took some exception to that characterization pointing out that at the very least the programs helped stabilize a rapidly declining market and that much of what was loaned to banks as ‘bail-out’ has been repaid with interest.

Legislation and the global economy figured prominently in the evening’s discussion with Duncan concluding that ‘the likelihood of Greece defaulting on its obligations today is 100%.’ “It’s not a matter of ‘if’ they will default, it’s simply a matter of ‘when’. The only questions is will it be done in an orderly manner which will allow the European economy to hit the bump and continue on, or if it’s done chaotically which will likely result in another worldwide recession.”

O’Toole, whose Foreclosure Radar website is considered to be the pinnacle of information on future trends in the distressed property market, drew some of the evening’s loudest applause when he called on banks to step up their efforts to take back properties and clear out the backlog. “Is it fair for you and I to keep making payments on our home, whether underwater or not, when the family next door can live there without making a payment for a year or two or three? And, face it, many of them just made bad decisions and should not have been in those homes to begin with. They knew it, their lenders knew it and now we all know it but the problem keeps dragging on. Until that backlog of non-performing loans is cleared off the books, banks can’t move forward. And until we get all these homes back into the hands of real home-owners or investors and renters, the market cannot stabilize.”

For more information on The Norris Group and to hear the more than 7 hours of interviews and commentary by this year’s panel, please visit http://www.thenorrisgroup.com/.

CA Attorney General files suit in massive 17 state mortgage fraud scheme.

CA State Attorney General Kamala Harris sued Philip Kramer, the Law Offices of Kramer & Kaslow, two other law firms, three other lawyers, and 14 other defendants who are accused of working together to defraud homeowners across the country through the deceptive marketing of “mass joinder” lawsuits. Prominent foreclosure attorneys Phillip Kramer and Mitchell Stein and at least 17 others have been accused of luring desperate homeowners into the scheme using deceptive advertising and telemarketing schemes aimed at millions of people in California and 16 other states.

The scheme claimed that courts have found that most mortgage lenders engaged in predatory lending practices or approved inappropriate loans (well, that part is certainly true), and that the homeowners bank was one of the guilty. As alleged in the lawsuit, defendants preyed on desperate homeowners facing foreclosure by selling them participation as plaintiffs in mass joinder lawsuits against mortgage lenders. Defendants deceptively led homeowners to believe that by joining these lawsuits, they would stop pending foreclosures, reduce their loan balances or interest rates, obtain money damages, and even receive title to their homes free and clear of their existing mortgage. Defendants charged homeowners retainer fees of up to $10,000 to join as plaintiffs to a mass joinder lawsuit against their lender or loan servicer.

It probably comes as no surprise that theses same ‘prominent foreclosure attorneys’ had previously been ‘prominent loan modification specialists’ but it is alleged that Kramer sent an email to another fellow defendant last year stating “Only morons would prefer to ‘sell’ mods from this day forward”.
Homeowners who have paid to be added to one of the lawsuits should contact the State Bar if they feel they may be victims of this scam. They can also contact a HUD-certified housing counselor for general mortgage related assistance. If you have sent money to any of the following seized entities, you should contact the CA Attorney Generals Office at http://oag.ca.gov/.

The Department of Justice has seized the practices of the following non-attorney defendants: Attorneys Processing Center, LLC; Data Management, LLC; Gary DiGirolamo; Bill Stephenson; Mitigation Professionals, LLC; Glen Reneau; Pate Marier & Associates, Inc.; James Pate; Ryan Marier; Home Retention Division; Michael Tapia; Lewis Marketing Corp.; Clarence Butt; and Thomas Phanco as well as seizing the practices and accounts of attorney defendants:The Law Offices of Kramer & Kaslow; Philip Kramer, Esq; Mitchell J. Stein & Associates; Mitchell Stein, Esq.; Christopher Van Son, Esq.; Mesa Law Group Corp.; and Paul Petersen, Esq.

Attorney General Harris is challenging the defendants’ alleged misconduct in marketing their mass joinder lawsuits; her office takes no position as to the legal merits of any claims asserted in the mass joinder lawsuits filed by defendants.

Victims in the following states are known to have received these mailers, or signed on to join the case. This is a preliminary list that may be updated:

Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Texas, Washington.

For more information please go to: http://oag.ca.gov/news/press_release?id=2552

Gov. signs Realtor Bill for short sale relief.

New law gives added protection to short-sale hopefuls On Friday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 458 (Corbett) into law.  The new law, which contained an urgency clause and became effective upon signing, protects homeowners pursuing short sales by barring first and secondary lien holders from going after sellers for money owed after the short sales close.

Making sense of the story

*     A short sale – a transaction in which the homeowner sells the property for less than is owed on the mortgage – must be approved by the lien holder or lien holders, if there is more than one.

*     Under previous law (SB 931 of 2010), a first mortgage holder could accept an agreed-upon short-sale payment as full payment for the outstanding balance of the loan, but the rule did not apply to junior lien holders. SB 458 extends the protections of SB 931 to junior liens.

*     The CALIFORNIA ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® (C.A.R.) sponsored the bill and urged lawmakers to pass this much-needed legislation.

*     “The signing of this bill is a victory for California homeowners who have been forced to short sell their home, only to find that the lender will pursue them after the short sale closes and demand an additional payment to subsidize the difference,” said C.A.R. President Beth L. Peerce.  “SB 458 brings closure and certainty to the short-sale process and ensures that once a lender has agreed to accept a short-sale payment on a property, all lienholders – those in first position and in junior positions – will consider the outstanding balance as paid in full, and the homeowner will not be held responsible for any additional payments on the property.”

Read the full story <http://www2.realtoractioncenter.com/site/R?i=Y7pJy-rwyTJMoTmgvOXhDA..>

Take Action Now!

This week Congress will be debating amendments that will dramatically impact our business here in California – either extending or expiring the current conforming loan limits. Current loan limits are $729,000 max for conforming, with our area being closer to $625,000. If these expire our next max would be back to $425,000. Now  $425,000 may sound like a  pretty fair loan limit. Folks across the mid-west could buy three median price homes for that amount. But that’s part of what got us into trouble out here to begin with – our median price in Southwest California, as well as much of the state, was well over $500,000 for several years. But if you wanted to buy a median price home, you were forced into a non-conforming or jumbo loan. FHA loans fell to less than 3% of the market in 2006. So people started looking for alternatives to traditional financing. 

Viola – sub-prime, Alt-A, exotics. 

You’ve probably already heard that B of A is already operating under the new/old loan limits assuming that Congress will let them expire. This means larger, more costly jumbos are back in place for many buyers. You think our move-up and upper end market is dead now? Just wait. 

So please take a moment to respond to this Call to Action. This week the Senate will be considering an amendment to the Military Construction Appropriations Bill (don’t ask), to maintain the current loan limits for another year. Both CAR and NAR support this effort. This Call to Action urges our Senators to work to maintain the current loan limits to help fan the flames of the recovery they so desperately need. 

Please help us ensure that your clients have access to affordable mortgages. 

cta

Homeownership Matters NAR Bus Tour Continues

On the Road Again, Posted by Vince

Posted: 14 Jul 2011 06:45 AM PDT

VinceMaltaDo you hear the engine revving? The NAR Home Ownership Matters Bus Tour is taking off for Atlanta this weekend to kick off the second leg of our bus tour. From Atlanta, we’ll travel the U.S. discussing the value of home ownership with the media, REALTORS® and consumers until we roll into the Annual Conference in Anaheim, November 11 – 14th.

I can’t express to you enough how vital it is that we continue to sound the message that Home Ownership Matters “to people, to communities and to America.” I’ve been working in real estate for over 25 years. Never have I seen the confluence of challenges that REALTORS® have faced in the last three years.

Our clients are having a hard time getting loans. Lenders aren’t giving us a yay or nay on a short sale. The National Flood Insurance Program is set to expire on September 30th. That’s going to start holding up closings this month (so please answer the Call for Action!).

The challenges are plentiful. One way to ensure that we get the help we need to create a safe, well-functioning, healthy real estate market is to start talking. That’s why the Home Ownership Matters bus tour is designed to talk to local leaders, prospective home buyers and the media about how best to protect our industry so all responsible Americans have the opportunity to buy into the dream of home ownership.

During the last leg of the bus tour in March, we reached 27.3 million consumers through media coverage. That would have cost us $3.95 million if we had to pay for it.

Thousands of consumers came out to our bus tour events to learn more about the value of home ownership. We saw a 350 percent increase in weekly visits on our Home Ownership Matters Facebook page. Five thousand additional people visited HouseLogic.com. Two thousand members attended REALTOR® Town Halls and bus tour events in 13 states.

I can’t wait to see the progress we’ll make on this leg of the tour this summer and fall. We’ll be in Atlanta on July 16, at Atlantic Station from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Please come out and visit with us. Tell your clients to come out as well. They just might leave with a Lowe’s gift card in hand.

Check Realtor.org/BusTour for more information and future bus tour stops.

The future of our industry rests in our hands. I’m glad we’re getting back on the road to start talking! – Vince Malta, 2011 NAR Vice President and Liaison to Government Affairs

Corona Sign Ordinance.

Corona Sign Ordinance

I know it’s not you but… we have been notified by the TIGAR association in Corona that their city people are having sign ordinance problems – and it’s all the dastardly OUT OF AREA AGENTS that are gumming  up the works. So a copy of their sign ordinance is attached for your viewing pleasure.

If you list properties in Corona, or hold open houses there, you need to be aware of the rules. They’re actually not bad and have mostly to do with sign size and hours &  areas of placement. Otherwise they reserve the right to pick up your signage and, if it doesn’t stop there, they could rescind the whole ordinance and you’d get NO (0) signs.

So play along. I know, it’s not you.

Here’s the ordinance…

New Home Assessment Data from Larry Ward

The word is out from our County Assessor, Clerk Recorder Larry Ward – another round of declines for property taxes in Riverside County. This makes three straight years of dropping assessments, a year longer than the last go-around in the 90’s.

But a couple of things have changed. This year many of the dropped assessments will go to commercial properties, which are continuing to lag residential properties. When I spoke with Larry earlier this year he was hopeful there would not be a need for further reductions this year after taking property values for the county back to roughly 2002 levels last year. Indeed as we have seen from my reports, residential values have remained virtually flatlined through the past 24 months after dropping over 50% in the previous 18 months. Assessed property values for the county for 2011 will be just over $200 billion, down over 16% from their peak of $243 billion in 2008.

This will be felt next year by the county as well as our cities, who are struggling to keep services afloat. Property taxes are the single largest source of operating funds for our cities and county and a substantial and real drop as we have experienced puts a real crimp in budgets, especially following the recent state decisions to further plunder city coffers of redevelopment funds, vehicle license fees and some of the basic operating funds cities have always counted on to get by. For the county it will mean a drop of nearly $5 million in property tax revenue from their earlier estimate of $266 million, a reduction of nearly 1% from their current budget of $582 million.

A second major change from Ward’s office is in the way the changes will be reported to property owners. Every year along about this time people got used to seeing a little postcard in their mailbox telling them what next years assessed value on their home would be. This year that’s not happening. In an effort to shave $200,000 from his budget, Ward will be posting the new assessments on-line on July 15. You can review your property tax assessment at www.riversideacr.com. If you don’t have internet access, well then you’re probably not reading this but in case you know somebody who may not browse, they can obtain a written assessment by calling 951-955-6200. They could also write to

Assessor, County Clerk, Recorder Larry Ward
P.O.B. 12004
Riverside CA  92502-2204

One final change tis year. If you think your assessed value should be higher or lower, it might cost you to find out. There has been debate among the County Supervisors to charge a fee to challenge your assessment. Should your challenge prevail and the property re-assessed, the fee would be refunded. But if the initial assessment stands then you will forfeit that fee. This has been proposed for two reasons – first as a cost measure to help defray some of the expense of researching individual properties after the process has already been done. Second, to minimize the rash of frivolous filings that occurs every year without foundation. Appears the only time people want their home to be worth less than it actually is is for tax purposes. And while this is understandable, your ‘gut feel’ of what your home is hopefully worth for tax purposes costs the county a lot of money to show you otherwise and that is being addressed by the new fee structure. If  you purchased your home after January 1, 1999, chances are Larry’s got you covered. He’s been one of the most aggressive and accurate Recorders in the state as far as making sure you aren’t over taxed.