25114792_lFor many baby boomers, a key rite of passage was the acquisition of a set of wheels – car wheels that is.  The love affair with the freedom to travel and explore extends to the housing marketplace where suburban communities require access to private transportation to get to most public conveniences such as shopping, schools and parks.

In the past decade, many urban communities are witnessing a revival of alternative modes of transportation especially with regards to the use of bikes and ones own two feet.  Walkability scores, defined as giving a value of 0-100 for the proximity of a neighborhood to destinations of interest, shopping, parks, schools, restaurants etc are becoming one way in which potential home owners are judging the suitability and attractiveness of particular homes and communities.

Do you know your neighborhood walkability score?  Do you live in a community which has carved out space on roadways to accommodate a bike lane?  Just recently, Grand Rapids Michigan  city commissioners passed a provision to increase the ‘safe passing’ distance to 5 feet for vehicles passing around bikes, prompting one commissioner to predict that there would be traffic backups for cars waiting to pass bikes while trying to avoid oncoming traffic.

Studies have shown that urban communities with higher walkability scores are faring better in home equity price gains than their counterpart neighborhoods which require vehicular transportation to access most public amenities.  According to Zillow Talk, a 15 percent increase in walkability scores in a neighborhood have been found to correlate with an average 12 percent increase in home prices.  (actual values between 4-24 percent)

What’s of most noteworthy for home owners in our opinion is the fact that the study indicated that higher walkability scores correlated favorably with increased resilience to equity losses even during the housing market downturn.

Additional information:  Walk the Walk.  How Walkability Raises Home Values in US Cities by Joe Cortright, Impressa Inc.


Social media has become a common way to advertise and market homes for sale.  And when the sale is about to close or finally clears the rites of passage necessary to clear escrow, new home owners and former ones do the ‘Happy Dance’ and often social media is the instinctive first stop in the celebration.

It’s so easy, with one click, to let the world know the address, price and the individuals involved in the home sale.  And while all these pieces of information eventually become a part of the public record, the issue at hand is WHEN this happens.  By the time the Registrar of Deeds records the information pertinent to a sale for county records, it is often weeks after the home has sold and closed.  The new homeowners have moved in and usually changed the locks.

The fact that information about home sales on social media is usually shared DURING the transaction process presents some unique challenges and to some extent risks for parties involved in the transaction.  Over the past year, there has been more than one instance in West Michigan in which funds secured for a closing were requested to be transferred fraudulently.

The scam involved an ‘official looking’ e-mail with data pertaining to the date of the closing, the names of the parties involved in the transaction and the sale price of the home.  The instructions requested a change in the wire transfer to a new account as a follow-up to a previous transmission.  In at least one instance, funds were inadvertently transferred to the wrong party.

How can social media be dangerous?  Well, when we share a status update on Facebook or other forms of social media, it is difficult to determine with absolute certainty the individuals who are reading a post and their intended purpose in potentially using the information for nefarious purposes.  Giving a crook your name, address, when you will be moving/closing and the price for which you sold your home is like giving them a key to your front door!

There have been numerous instances in West Michigan where Craigslist posts have scammed individuals hoping to rent a home by posting false advertisements for rentals which utilized listing data.  Unsuspecting home owners were sometimes surprised to find potential house renters peering into their windows or walking the property which they though was listed for rent – even with a real estate sign outside.

Every REALTOR knows that when we hold an Open House, we must take precautions to secure the property and ensure that we do our utmost to protect the owners most valuable asset, their home.  This is even more important when dealing with online media where in essence the home is left ‘OPEN’ online for much longer periods of time.  While, there is no 100 % guarantee against exposure to risk, there are some things which we can do to protect homes and secure funds during the process of the home sale transaction.  These are:

  •  Limit the sharing!  While sharing with friends and family is understandable, it may be prudent to wait until the home has closed and you have moved to share the details of the transaction with the world.  And…does everyone really need to know that the home secured a full price offer and what that exact amount was?
  • Know where your data is going!  There are many portals online for disseminating real estate information.  They are not all equal.  Some portals are not diligent about updating information accurately or in a timely way.  Keeping tabs on data sharing is a conversation which should occur at the beginning and during the transaction process.
  • Listen to your gut!  If something does not feel right, investigate further.  A recent incident was thwarted when a suspicious e-mail caused an alert escrow officer and agent to do some further research.  Report suspicious activity to the appropriate authorities.
  • Consider encryption!  When sending sensitive financial data, lending institutions encrypt the communication to ensure security.  Today, we must become more aware and sensitive to these types of concerns especially as more data is transmitted through online portals including cloud computing.

While this list is not exhaustive, it provides a few tips which can help you prevent your happy moment from becoming an invitation for thieves.

chair setSome important changes will be put into effect with regards to the process of completing a real estate transaction on October 3, 2015. The changes are part of the Dodd-Frank Bill and in the industry are referred to by what may seem like a curious set of initials to the average person – RESPA/TILLA.  The government agency responsible for implementing and overseeing the enforcement of these new changes to the law is the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau which you will also see referenced by the initials CFPB.

While, the requirements will largely impact new processes for the Lending and Title industry with regards to actual changes in forms and procedures, we do anticipate that there will be some adjustments necessary for the real estate transaction as conducted by REALTORS as well. For our clients (Buyers & Sellers), the adjustments will largely be (though not necessarily completely)reflected in the following ways:

1. New Timelines requiring additional time to complete a fairly standard real estate transaction
2. Ability to understand the re-disclosure period and how it can impact the timeline of getting your home or your money.
3. Coordination of  ‘stacked’ closings and why closing and purchasing in the same day may no longer be possible
4. A couple of new forms for the Lending & Escrow process

As REALTORS, coordinating the process in a way that minimizes stress for our clients is our primary concern. To this end, we are taking courses to ensure we understand how to advise our clients to ensure that your investment in a home occurs as smoothly as possible during this period of significant transition.

If you have been thinking about buying or selling a home and would like to have a more in depth conversation about the best way to navigate through this changing landscape, we encourage you to contact us well BEFORE October 3, 2015 when these changes are scheduled to take effect. *(Implementation was delayed from August 1, (today) to address concerns about preparedness by the industry and consumers. Our Number: 616-791-0511.

Lastly, if you are currently in the processing of retailing your home on your own or are considering this option in the future, we would be willing to talk with you about how to avoid potential pitfalls particularly during this time of transition.  In the days ahead, knowledge and understanding will be critical in ensuring the your transaction does not become an unintended casualty of the law of ‘Unintended Consequences’.  Our office is prepared and ready to assist with all your real estate needs and concerns.  Call us to talk.  It’s Free!

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Leadership Essentials Capture

The grind of daily life is something that every serious business person experiences and learns to cope with.  Successful entrepreneurs understand that it is important to refuel and recharge to avoid or at least mitigate some of the burnout that accompanies the relentless pace of industry today.

For professionals involved in the real estate industry, the relentless pace of life has also included the stress of dealing with a marketplace that has experienced periods of intense activity and stress due to foreclosures and more recently, extremely low levels of housing inventory.

‘Leadership Essentials’ inspires REALTORS and individuals involved in business to reshape their thinking about the nature of challenge and adversity.  The interactive course utilizes storytelling and principles of Leadership gleaned through navigating the tumultuous world of real estate during one of the most profoundly difficult seasons the real estate industry has ever witnessed.

Lola Audu served as the President of the Grand Rapids Association of REALTORS in 2011 and was elected President of the Women’s Council of REALTORS- Western Michigan Chapter in 2013.  Lola’s personal journey and unique experience profile serve as a backdrop for a deeper conversation about what it means to not just lead, but become a leader who invokes participation through inspiring others to follow and engage in life transforming ways.

To book this course for your real estate brokerage, business or non-profit group, please contact Audu Real Estate at 616-791-0511.  A mini preview of the course can be accessed through downloading the link.

Leadership Essentials Mini Presentation

COMING SOON:  cc: Authentication – The Process of Becoming an Authentic Influencer.  Check back for more details for this course which is scheduled to premier in May – June 2015.

1994-08-033 002Twenty years ago during a weekly Broker tour, an agent pointed out a home that was in the process of foreclosure.  As a brand new agent, I didn’t really understand the significance.  For one thing, there were very few distress sales and most agents had never actually negotiated a transaction with anyone other than a home seller.

Fifteen short years later, the landscape would change dramatically as Distress Sales (Foreclosed Homes and Short Sales) skyrocketed to almost 60% of the sales in the West Michigan area during the worst parts of the economic recession.  Thankfully, the volume of this type of real estate activity has slowed substantially.  However, when a negotiation requires the assistance of a Short Sale Specialist, choosing an experienced professional can make all the difference in the world.

Recently, we closed a Short Sale transaction that required negotiating through multiple offers and almost a year to bring to closure.  It was a unique challenge.  At the closing, it was hard to express the gratitude we all felt in seeing another family successfully move from here…to there.

Lanita’s story about her journey and her experience with Audu Real Estate will be a feature in our upcoming April newsletter.  If you’d like to be added to our mailing list to receive future installments, please e-mail us:  lola@audurealestate.com.  You may also visit us on Facebook.

February Existing Home Sales CaptureReal Estate professionals in West Michigan are finding themselves involved in an interesting line of conversation with potential home buyers in recent months.  After the usual qualifying questions about housing needs and wants, the next step is to find the right home.  That’s where it’s getting complicated.

Home Buyers are often surprised to find that there are not that many homes to choose from.  And, when a suitable home is found, there’s another surprise.  Hopeful new home owners may find themselves competing with multiple offers to purchase a home – sometimes within hours or days of new listings coming onto the market.

For Investors, the outlook is even bleaker.  According to the latest statistical reasearch available from the National Association of REALTORS, ALL CASH sales dropped slightly in February to 26% (down 1% from the previous month) and Individual Investors accounted for 14% of the market (down from 17% in the January).

Distressed Sales remain largely unchanged at approximately 11% of the national market.  The days when Investors were getting houses for a ‘song & a dance’ have disappeared.  The average Distress Sale retails between 15-17% below fair market value.

Inventory levels are at an all-time low nationwide.  As a result, housing prices have remained strong.  The average home is on the market for less than 65 days.  34% of homes on the market in February sold in less than a month.

On the local front, the Grand Rapids Association of REALTORS reports some trends that mirror the national marketplace but overall West Michigan is posting positive gains.  The average home price has increased 7% over the same period of time last year with today’s average home retailing for just under $159,000 versus approximately 140,000 a year ago. This is a significant increase of over 12% over the past year.

What remains the most unexpected element of this story is that last year (February 2014), Inventory levels were at approximately 3.1 months of supply.  Today’s numbers indicate a drop to 2.6 percent.  Surprising, even as we prepare to enter the Spring Market of 2015.  If we repeat the trend from last year, it will be July before inventory levels peak above 3 months of housing inventory.  Great news if you’re thinking of becoming a Home Seller.  For Home Buyers…well, not so much.

For more information about the insights shared in this Market Trends Report, please contact:  Lola@audurealestate.com.

National Association of REALTORS Infographic

Grand Rapids Association of REALTORS statistical report


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