NEWS BRIEFS

Stay up to date on current News & Issues.

General News
Call for Action: Support the First-Time Homebuyer Savings Account legislation

Bucks County
Bucks County wins $1.7 million workforce development grant

Chester County
County planners recommend adoption of Landscapes3

Delaware County
Delco to put health study, with possibility of county health department, out to bid

Montgomery County
Lower Merion to release complete draft of zoning code

Philadelphia County
Philly land prices plummet, as weakening housing market tightens purse strings
 

 



 

Blog

Monday, August 27, 2018

Whose (Sewer) Line Is It, Anyway?

Posted by: Pete Kennedy on Monday, August 27, 2018 at 9:00:00 am Comments (0)

Making sense of sewer laterals beyond the property line

When a municipal sewer lateral inspection reveals a problem that is beyond a homeowner’s property line, who is responsible for fixing it? The answer, many municipalities assume, is that the burden falls on the homeowner.

For example, West Brandywine Township’s sewer ordinance states that:

Maintenance, repair, or replacement of the building sewer between the sewer main and the building served by the building sewer shall be the responsibility of the property owner.

But is this fair, and more importantly, is it legal? Should homeowners be on the hook for expensive repairs that are literally beyond their property line?

This situation has arisen often enough that recently we have been consulting with legal counsel for the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors® to determine if such ordinances are worth challenging. If you have thoughts or experiences to share about this topic, please contact us at via our online form or by email at sra@suburbanrealtorsalliance.com.

Flickr image by Adam Rose (CC BY SA 2.0)

Monday, July 2, 2018

Have your clients been affected by Lower Bucks municipal authority enforcement?

Posted by: Pete Kennedy on Monday, July 2, 2018 at 12:00:00 am Comments (1)

The Suburban Realtors® Alliance wants to hear from Realtors® whose clients have been affected by the point-of-sale enforcement of easements by the Lower Bucks County Joint Municipal Authority (LBCJMA).

The LBCJMA has in recent years taken a hard-line approach to enforcing easements, leading to reports of homeowners incurring losses in the tens of thousands of dollars because pools and outbuildings, which were properly permitted and inspected by their municipalities, encroached on easements, even by small amounts.

If you have had an experience you’d like to share, contact us via the Alliance website, email sra@suburbanrealtorsalliance.com or call 610-981-9000.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Act 133 Doesn’t Cover Pre-existing Conditions

Posted by: Pete Kennedy on Wednesday, May 23, 2018 at 12:00:00 pm Comments (0)

One seller was denied a U&O certificate because of tall grass.

What if your $600,000 home sale was in jeopardy, but a 15-year-old who lived around the corner could save it for about $30?

We recently got a call from a Realtor® who was selling a home, and the township would not issue a use and occupancy certificate because the grass wasn’t cut.

While that may sound like an excessive action by the township and a violation of Act 133, it actually was not illegal. The reality was that the township had issued a citation for the overgrown grass before the home sale began.

Act 133 prevents municipalities from withholding resale certificates based on code issues discovered during point-of-sale inspections, but it does not apply to pre-existing violations.

We can glean two pieces of advice from this anecdote:

1) Listing agents should be proactive about finding out whether there are municipal code violations standing against a client’s property.

2) When it comes to small fixes — mowing the lawn, installing a smoke detector, etc. — it’s often faster and easier to simply address the issue than to fight city hall.

Read more about Act 133 in our blog post: ‘When Do I Schedule Inspections?’ And Other Important Questions.

Flickr image by Green Shadows (CC BY 2.0)

Friday, February 23, 2018

New Congressional District Maps Released

Posted by: Pete Kennedy on Friday, February 23, 2018 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)

Update 3/20/2018: The U.S. Supreme Court and a federal district court both rejected lawsuits to overturn the revised Pa. congressional map.
Read about the rulings here: https://goo.gl/TM3vT6

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Feb. 19, 2018, released its map updating congressional districts in the commonwealth. Below is an interactive version of the new map, created by Kerrin Garripoli of Ceisler Media

 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

How a Government Shutdown Would Impact Realtors®

Posted by: Pete Kennedy on Tuesday, January 16, 2018 at 4:00:00 pm Comments (0)

Lawmakers in Washington D.C.  are under pressure to reach a spending deal — and have it signed by the president — by Friday, Jan. 19, at midnight.  The date marks the expiration of a short-term spending agreement passed during a similar deadline in late December 2017. 

If Congress can't reach a deal in time, the federal government will shut down, which would close many government offices, and prevent hundreds of thousands of federal employees from working. Essential  government operations, such as those related to safety and national security, would continue to operate, as would the U.S. Postal Service. 

How would a shutdown affect real estate and Realtors®?

According to a CNBC article posted last April, furloughs at the Internal Revenue Service and the Federal Housing Administration can create roadblocks for home buyers and sellers:

  • Mortgage applications could be delayed if the lender can't verify IRS data.
  • Some lenders may even need to verify your Social Security number.

The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is also at risk, after being extended last month along with the rest of government spending in a  short-term continuing resolution. NAR has written letters to both the House and Senate urging long-term extension of the program, noting that when NFIP lapsed in 2010, "Each month cost more than 40,000 home sales."

What happened during the last shutdown?

After the government shutdown in 2013, from Oct. 1 to 16, the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) surveyed members about how they were affected. Seventy-one percent of respondents said their deals were not impacted at all, while those who experienced problems cited FHA/USDA closures as the biggest impediments. Note that NFIP was not affected in the 2013 shutdown.

 

 

 

Monday, December 18, 2017

Amended State Constitution Could Bring Property Tax Reform

Posted by: Peter Kennedy III on Monday, December 18, 2017 at 9:00:00 am Comments (0)

Pennsylvania voters have approved a constitutional amendment that many experts feel could lead the way to real property tax reform in the state. The amendment expands the reform options available to state legislators by making a key change to the tax uniformity clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution. That change could allow local taxing authorities, such as school districts, to exempt up to 100 percent of the assessed value of homestead properties (primary residences) from paying property taxes, without the requirement that non-homestead properties also be excluded.

While the initial euphoria of the amendment’s passage is still fresh in the air, it’s very important to note that voter approval was just a first step. Before school districts or other local entities are allowed to fully exempt homes from property tax liabilities, the PA General Assembly must pass a law authorizing such action.

Along with allowing school districts to exempt homes from property taxes, the legislature must also come up with a new menu of tax options that could be used to replace the revenue lost through the exemptions. A requirement of such a plan will be that local authorities may not increase the millage rate on other real property to pay for homestead exclusions.

Even with all of these hurdles, the passage of the ballot question is certainly welcome news for many home owners whose local property tax burdens have outstripped their ability to keep up over the past decade. It is also good news for many school districts who have done all they can to slow the growth of property tax burdens, while at the same time dealing with strict limits on other means of raising revenue.

What’s next in Harrisburg?

Now that voters have done their part to make change possible, our elected leaders in Harrisburg must take the next step of producing implementing legislation. Given the most recent efforts of the legislature to reform property taxes, it’s safe to bet that they’ll be taking a new look at several revenue-replacement options that have been previously on the table.

Raise Local Earned Income Taxes: Only four states, including Pennsylvania, allow school districts to levy a local earned-income tax for school funding. Currently, the local income tax rate in most districts is capped at 1%, which is typically divided by the district and municipal governments. One drawback is that income tax proceeds are historically less stable than property tax revenues, making the budget planning process more difficult.

Collect Personal Income Taxes: While a personal income tax could capture revenue from a broader base of taxpayers, there is currently no taxing jurisdiction besides the state that collects it. This could make implementation of such a tax more difficult at the local level. Additionally, the personal income tax is a less stable tax regarding the collection of the unearned income portion (interest, dividends, capital gains, etc.) as it can vary dramatically from year to year.

Allow Local Sales Taxes: Currently, only two states – Louisiana and Georgia – allow individual school districts to levy a sales tax. Nonetheless, sales taxes are easy to collect at the retail level, and studies have shown that voters sometimes prefer them to income taxes. However, revenues from sales taxes are even less stable than income taxes. In addition, local sales taxes could create situations in which businesses are penalized by consumers because of the district in which they reside.

Statewide Approach: Proponents of Senate Bill 76, the most recent attempt at property tax reform in Pennsylvania, feel that their effort to eliminate property taxes through a centralized system of school funding could regain momentum as a result of the amendment to the Constitution’s Uniformity Clause. However, that measure has proven to be very unpopular in southeastern Pennsylvania, as opponents claim it would leave important budget decisions to a state government that has continually cut education spending over the past decade.

While it’s clear that the task ahead for the state legislature will not be easy, the passage of the Constitutional amendment could produce a window of opportunity for change. Only time will tell whether our elected leaders are up to the task.

 Flickr image  by David Woo (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Monday, November 27, 2017

Meet Our Board: Q+A with Vice Chairman John McFadden

Board of Directors, John McFadden
Posted by: Pete Kennedy on Monday, November 27, 2017 at 9:00:00 am Comments (0)

John McFadden brings nearly three decades of real estate experience to the SRA board, plus firsthand knowledge of local government. He has served as a commissioner in Springfield Township and as chairman of Delaware County Council. He's also one of the founders of the annual Run for Heroes, a 5k fundraiser that provides scholarships to children of Delaware County first responders killed in the line of duty. 

John McFadden
2017-18 Vice Chairman, Suburban Realtors® Alliance 
RE/MAX Hometown Realtors®

Hometown (born/raised):  Born in Southwest Philadelphia, raised in Aldan
Hometown (current):   Springfield, Delaware County 
Years as a Realtor®:  29

Why did you first join the Alliance Board?

I want to continue the collaborative approach to working with local officials that our organization is known for.​

What do you see as the most important legislative issue for Realtors® right now?

Fair and balanced tax reform both locally and nationally. Locally, I don't see any of the leading state plans accomplishing that, and nationally, I am worried about cutting taxes when our national debt is out of control. 

          You can earn a good income from selling real estate,

                    but you can build wealth by owning real estate.  

How do you like to spend your time when you're not working?

I love to read, and at this time each year, I enjoy playing the new Call of Duty game.​

What is one piece of advice you would give to a new Realtor®?

​Find a mentor who is successful in a similar area of Real Estate and learn from them. Also, you can earn a good income from selling real estate, but you can build wealth by owning real estate.​

What book(s) is on your nightstand?

A President and a Pope, about Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul working together to defeat communism. A lot of new information in it.​

Offices/titles held: 

Past Treasurer of Suburban West Realtors® Alliance
Former Springfield Township Commissioner
Former Delaware County Councilman
Monday, November 20, 2017

Municipalities have six weeks to ban mini-casinos

Posted by: Pete Kennedy on Monday, November 20, 2017 at 9:00:00 am Comments (0)

Satellite casinos would have up to 750 slots, 40 table games

Mini-casinos are coming to Pennsylvania, and municipalities across the commonwealth have until the end of the year to decide whether to prohibit them within their borders.

On Oct. 30, Gov. Tom Wolf signed into law House Bill 271, a gambling expansion act that allows for up to 10 satellite casinos, each having between 300 and 750 slot machines and up to 40 table games. 

Ten of the state’s 12 existing casinos will be able to bid on licenses to open these "category 4" satellite casinos with slot machines, with minimum bids starting at $7.5 million. A table games certificate will cost the winning bidders an extra $2.5 million. The new casinos are already not allowed in certain places — within 25 miles of an existing casino owned by another company, or within a county that already has a category 3 resort casino, such as Montgomery County and its Valley Forge Casino Resort. 

While some municipalities may encourage mini-casinos to open in hopes of boosting the local economy, those who wish to prohibit the new casinos are on a tight deadline. Each municipality must pass a resolution banning the casinos and deliver it to the state Gaming Control Board by Dec. 31, 2017.

Municipalities that do so and later wish to allow the casinos may subsequently rescind their resolutions, but they may not change back again. For more information, visit the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board website.

 
Flickr image  by Graeme Maclean (CC BY 2.0)

 

Friday, November 17, 2017

A Strange Thing: Tax Breaks for Private Jet Owners

Posted by: Pete Kennedy on Friday, November 17, 2017 at 11:00:00 am Comments (0)

Fans of the Netflix show Stranger Things might feel like they've entered the murky world of The Upside Down as they read over details of tax reform bills in Congress now.

Case in point: the Senate tax reform bill, dubbed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, would hurt middle-income homeowners but give tax breaks to private jet owners.

According to Yahoo News:

The new Senate tax bill will give those who own or lease private planes breaks on the amount they pay to companies for maintenance, storage, fueling and even when they want to hire pilots and a crew onboard. 

The proposal is tucked in the middle of the controversial bill's latest version, dubbed the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. The House approved the bill Thursday and it's now headed to the Senate. 

The good news is pushing back on this ill-informed legislation isn't as perilous as battling the monsters from Stranger Things. It's as easy as contacting your elected officials in Washington and letting them know you think homeowners shouldn’t have to pay for corporate tax cuts with their home equity.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Tax Reform Would Hit Pennsylvania Homeowners Hard

Posted by: Pete Kennedy on Thursday, November 16, 2017 at 1:00:00 pm Comments (0)

The National Association of Realtors® engaged KSE Focus to analyze the impact of the mortgage interest and real estate tax deductions in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The results show that Pennsylvania homeowners would be hit hard if these deductions are removed or rendered useless by tax reform legislation currently being considered.

Here are the results of KSE's analysis:

Facts on the Mortgage Interest and Real Estate Tax Deductions in Pennsylvania

Of the approximately 3,404,000 owner-occupied houses in Pennsylvania in 2014, 2,062,000 or 61% had a mortgage.

In 2014, 1,354,200 taxpayers in Pennsylvania claimed a deduction for mortgage interest (MID). The total amount deducted was $9,863,101,000. This means that the average taxpayer claiming the MID subtracted $7,300 from taxable income in 2014 as a result of the MID.

At a marginal rate of 25 percent1 , this means that the average taxpayer saved $1,820 in taxes as a result of the MID. The total tax savings from the MID in Pennsylvania in 2014 was $2,465,775,250.

In 2014, 1,592,700 taxpayers in Pennsylvania claimed a deduction for real estate taxes. The total amount deducted was $8,005,489,000. This means that the average taxpayer claiming the real estate tax deduction subtracted $5,050 from taxable income in 2014.

At a marginal rate of 25 percent2 , this means that the average taxpayer saved $1,260 in taxes as a result of the real estate tax deduction. The total savings from the real estate tax deduction in Pennsylvania in 2014 was $2,001,372,250.

If the MID and real estate tax deductions were eliminated, the loss would not be a one-year event; homeowners lose out on these potential savings each and every year. The present value3 of these lost savings could total $114,542,243,600. The value of all owner-occupied real estate in Pennsylvania in 2014 was $697,742,720,400. If the lost tax savings are fully capitalized into the price of houses, the average decline in value in Pennsylvania could be 16%. From the individual perspective, the median priced home in Pennsylvania in 2014 was $160,800. A decline in value as projected could mean a loss in home value of $26,400 for the typical home owner.

_______________________________________

1 Marginal rates range from 10 to 35 percent.

2 Ibid.

3 Present value calculation assumes 3.9 percent discount rate and 1000 year time horizon.

Sources for the data above include: Internal Revenue Service 2014, American Community Survey 2014, National Association of Realtors® 2014; All calculations are by the National Association of Realtors® Research Division, July 2017.

Let your elected officials know how you feel about tax reform that harms homeowners by answering NAR's Call For Action.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Voters Approve Homestead Exemption Referendum: What's Next?

Posted by: Pete Kennedy on Wednesday, November 8, 2017 at 3:30:00 pm Comments (0)

 
Pennsylvania voters on Tuesday approved a statewide property tax referendum affecting local taxing authorities, but that does not mean any changes for taxpayers yet.

We made this graphic to show how things will proceed.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

What Is a Homestead?

Posted by: Pete Kennedy on Tuesday, October 24, 2017 at 10:00:00 am Comments (0)
 
On Nov. 7, PA voters will see a referendum question on whether to allow increased property tax relief for homesteads. First things first — What, exactly, is a homestead?
 
The short version: A homestead is a home that is the primary residence of its owner. That excludes vacation homes, second homes, rental homes and corporate-owned properties, among others. 
 
The word "homestead" might bring to mind a house on the prairie, but a townhouse in the Delaware Valley can fit the bill, too.
 
The long version, from the state website:
 
In Pennsylvania law, a homestead is defined as dwelling, including the parcel of land on which the dwelling is located and the other improvements located on the parcel for which any of the following apply:
 
1.  The dwelling is primarily used as the domicile of an owner who is a natural person. The homestead for real property qualifying under this paragraph shall not include the land on which the dwelling is located if the land is owned by a person other than the person who owns the dwelling.
 
2.  The dwelling is a unit in a condominium as the term is defined in Section 3103 of Title 68 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes and the unit is primarily used as the domicile of a natural person who is an owner of the unit; or the dwelling is a unit in a cooperative as the term is defined in Section 4103 of Title 68 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes and the unit is primarily used as the domicile of a natural person who is an owner of the unit. The homestead for a unit in a condominium or a cooperative shall be limited to the assessed value of the unit, which shall be determined in a manner consistent with the assessment of real property taxes on those units under Title 68 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes or as otherwise provided by law. If the unit is not separately assessed for real property taxes, the homestead shall be a pro rata share of the real property.
 
3.  The dwelling does not qualify under the criteria listed above and a portion of the dwelling is used as the domicile of an owner who is a natural person. The homestead for real property qualifying under this paragraph shall be the portion of the real property that is equal to the portion of the dwelling that is used as the domicile of an owner.
 
That legal definition begs the question: What is a natural person? A natural person is simply a human being — as opposed to a legal person, such a corporate entity.
 
The Suburban Realtors® Alliance and the Pennsylvania Association of Realtors® urge you to vote "Yes" on the referendum.
 
For more information about the referendum, see this earlier blog post: 

      Property tax referendum will be on November ballot

Flickr image by Lane Pearman (CC BY 2.0)

 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Meet Our Board: Q+A with Chris Beadling

Posted by: Pete Kennedy on Monday, October 23, 2017 at 6:00:00 am Comments (0)

Chris Beadling is a Realtor® with an eye for technology. The immediate  past chairman of the  Alliance, he has spent more than 15 years helping other Realtors® make the best use of the tools at their disposal to maximize their success. In 2015, he founded Sqaak, an earnest-money transfer tool for real estate professionals.

Chris Beadling 
Board member, Suburban Realtors® Alliance (2016-2017 chairman)
Quinn & Wilson, Realtors®

Hometown (born/raised):  Hatboro, PA
Hometown (current):   Doylestown, PA 
Years as a Realtor®15

Why did you first join the Alliance Board?

​I had just finished service as the president of the Bucks County Association and from that experience I knew there were so many important issues that needed our attention.  The SRA Board was a great way to leverage that experience. ​

What do you see as the most important legislative issue for Realtors® right now?

Because of my technology background, I tend to look at legislative issues others don't; patent reform, net neutrality, things of that nature.  That doesn't mean the mortgage interest deduction isn't important or that protecting private property rights isn't critical, rather, I just like to keep an eye on the items others may not.

Describe the first deal you ever closed.

My first deal was on a single family house in Levittown.  Cute couple trying to find their first real home.  I quickly learned about municipal ordinances (I think I paid for an electrical mast to clear the U&O) and how important it is for Realtors to have a say in how homes are transferred.

What was the most unusual home/sale you have handled?

​I represented the seller of a historic old home in Haverford Township in the 1990s.  The house and its owner were both very eclectic.  It was an "in-house" deal, so the other agent seemed to think we could be lax about the rules.  It was the first time I really had to stand up for doing things correctly. 

 

          The other agent seemed to think we could be lax about the rules.

                    It was the first time I really had to stand up for doing things correctly.  

How do you like to spend your time when you're not working?

In addition to doting on my 11-year old daughter, I like to play golf (especially in support of our local candidates) and I am an avid reader.  During the fall you can find me playing fantasy football or at the Linc cheering on my favorite team.​

What is one piece of advice you would give to a new Realtor®?

​Learn from your mentors and those who have been doing the business, but don't rely exclusively on them.  There are so many tools and services out there people ignore because their mentor/trainer told them "we do it this way" (which happens to be the old-school way).  Look at the technology available from sources like RPR.​

What book(s) is on your nightstand?

​In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam - Robert McNamara​
​The Confessions of Young Nero - Margaret George
(and a copy of Don Quixote that I have been trying to finish for two years)​

Offices/titles held: 

Chair, Suburban Realtors® Alliance, 2016-2017
President BCAR - 2014
Chair, PAR Strategic Plan Task Force - 2010
Chair, Pennsylvania YPN - 2014
Chair, PAR Member Services Coordinating Committee - 2013/2014
President, Bloomsburg University Alumni Assocaiton - 2010
Founder & President, Central Bucks Rotary Club - 2010/2011
 
Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Tax Reform Shouldn't Harm Homeowners

Posted by: Pete Kennedy on Tuesday, October 17, 2017 at 11:00:00 am Comments (0)

Homeownership is the foundation of the American economy, HUD Secretary Ben Carson said at a forum on June 1.

Unfortunately, that sentiment is not reflected in tax reform proposals being pushed in Washington today.

On June 24, Congressional Republicans released a of comprehensive tax reform “blueprint” that would penalize most homeowners with a tax hike and remove incentives to homeownership that have existed for more than a century.

Realtors® are on high alert, focused on defeating any policy changes that would hurt homeowners.

“This proposal recommends a backdoor elimination of the mortgage interest deduction for all but the top 5 percent who would still itemize their deductions,” said National Association of Realtors® (NAR) President William E. Brown.

No bill has been introduced yet, but the consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers (PWC), commissioned by NAR, evaluated a tax reform plan modeled on the “blueprint.”

PWC’s study concluded that home-owning families with incomes between $50,000 and $200,000 would face average tax hikes of $815 in the year after enactment, while non-homeowners in the same income range would enjoy average annual tax cuts of $516. Further, home prices nationwide in the short run would fall by 10.2 percent.

The blueprint recommends cutting all but two deductions — for mortgage interest and charitable deductions — and doubling the standard deduction. These changes would make the mortgage interest deduction (MID) useless for nearly all middle-income homeowners.

Homeowners nationwide already pay 83 percent of all federal income taxes; they would pay an even bigger share under the proposed reform.

These changes would make the

mortgage interest deduction useless

for nearly all middle-income homeowners

NAR has released an interactive map tool showing how much homeowners currently benefit from the MID, sorted by congressional district. For example, in Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District — which includes portions of Delaware, Chester, Montgomery, Berks and Lancaster counties — 59 percent of homeowners claim the MID in 2015, cutting an average of $8,427 from their taxable income in 2015.  

At that HUD forum in June, kicking off National Homeownership Month, Sec. Carson also said: "The importance of homeownership is apparent to all of us … security, certainty, safety, wealth creation, a path forward, self-sufficiency, a place to live with loved ones, to raise our families, the location of our neighborhood.”

Realtors® agree. And we support sensible tax reform, but we will fight hard against any policy that would harm homeowners.

Image: HUD  Instagram

 

Monday, September 25, 2017

‘When Do I Schedule Inspections?’ And Other Important Questions

Posted by: Jamie Ridge on Monday, September 25, 2017 at 9:00:00 am Comments (0)

In a four-county region where 238 municipalities each have their own way of governing real estate sales, you might think there would be an endless array of inquiries from our 11,000 members regarding these varied and often frustrating rules.

And while it’s true that our staff has fielded a wide variety of questions about the intricacies of municipal point-of-sale regulations, there are some we hear on an almost daily basis. Recently, many questions have focused on Act 133 of 2016, the new law that made important amendments to Pennsylvania’s Municipal Code and Ordinance Compliance Act.

In this column, I’ll give our best advice on the most common of these questions.

If a municipal inspection is required, how early should I schedule it?

The earlier, the better. We recommend that you call the municipality to schedule an inspection no less than 30 days before the scheduled closing. Municipalities generally don’t want to step on your sale, but the municipal staff needs sufficient time to perform its work.

An early inspection also gives your client advance notice of any issues with the home that could complicate the sale. The extra time allows them to complete repairs or negotiate with the other party about how the work will be done.

When Realtors® call our office regarding use and occupancy inspection or certificate issues just a day or two prior to settlement, it can be very difficult for us to help resolve them in a way that allows a transaction to move forward on time.

How does Act 133 define “unfit for human habitation?”

Under Act 133, homes that are deemed “unfit for human habitation” by an inspector are only eligible for a “temporary access permit.” While the meaning of “unfit” will always be somewhat subjective, Act 133 helps to narrow the definition, stating that it applies to a condition likely to be dangerous to the health and safety of occupants or neighbors, including things like fire risks, lack of sanitary facilities, vermin or overall disrepair that would cost half or more of the sales price of the property to repair. This term is generally limited to the worst types of violations.

True or False: Under Act 133, municipalities can’t require escrow before issuing a resale certificate.

True. The law forbids a municipality from requiring escrowed funds, bonds or other sorts of financial arrangements as a condition of issuing the certificate. A municipality may, however, require escrow for permitted work necessary to graduate from a temporary resale certificate to a full one.

True or false: Under Act 133, municipalities can no longer require municipal inspections before a real estate transaction.

False! If a municipality has a point-of-sale inspection ordinance, a seller is required to order an inspection and follow the procedures laid out by the process described in the ordinance. The main change implemented by Act 133 is that once a code inspection has been completed, the municipality must issue a resale certificate.

How do Act 133 rules apply to code/ordinance violations that were cited through some other process?

The law is directed only at violations that are found when a municipality decides to inspect a property at resale; it does not apply to violations discovered through prior inspections, or open municipal construction permits.

For violations already on the books that have advanced to some sort of judicial enforcement, the generally applicable municipal rules would still apply and a new owner wouldn’t be guaranteed a certificate. In addition, if the property has previously been cited under the Neighborhood Blight Reclamation and Revitalization Act, those rules would apply instead.

How do I know if a municipality requires a point-of-sale inspection?

Realtors® can visit our website's municipal database, which has information on each of the 238 municipalities in the four counties we monitor. The database includes information on point-of-sale inspections, sign requirements and millage rates.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Property tax referendum will be on November ballot

Posted by: Pete Kennedy on Friday, September 22, 2017 at 9:00:00 am Comments (0)

On Nov. 7, Pennsylvanians voting in the municipal general election will have the opportunity to vote on a referendum question that could lead to substantial property tax reform. Though it hasn't yet received widespread attention, the Property Tax Relief and Homestead Exclusion referendum, if approved, would amend the state constitution to allow local taxing authorities to exclude from taxation the entire assessed values of homes within their borders. 

Essentially, municipalities, counties and school districts would have the authority to zero out many residents' property taxes. Currently, these taxing entities can exempt only up to 50 percent of the median assessed home value. The Pennsylvania Association of Realtors® supports the Property Tax Relief and Homestead Exclusion Amendment, which would provide local taxing entities the flexibility of providing property tax relief to homeowners.

Essentially, municipalities, counties and school districts would have the authority to zero out many residents' property taxes.

Here is the question that voters will see: "Shall the Pennsylvania Constitution be amended to permit the General Assembly to enact legislation authorizing local taxing authorities to exclude from taxation up to 100 percent of the assessed value of each homestead property within a local taxing jurisdiction, rather than limit the exclusion to one-half of the median assessed value of all homestead property, which is the existing law?"

There are a few important points to keep in mind. The exclusion would apply to homesteads, which doesn't include, for example, commercial properties or second homes. Even if passed, the referendum would not have an immediate effect on residents' taxes. State legislators would need to enact legislation setting the parameters for local taxing entities to follow. Most importantly, the legislation would need to provide school districts and municipalities the ability to raise other taxes – such as earned income – to offset the loss of property tax revenue.  And those entities would not be required to exercise the new flexibility; in fact, only a handful of them utilize the full 50 percent exclusion limit allowed under existing law.

There will be more information about this referendum coming in the weeks leading up to the election. 

Flickr image of a Chalfont, Bucks County, home  by Doug Kerr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Meet Our Board: Q+A with Chairwoman Ellen Renish

Board of Directors, Ellen Renish
Posted by: Pete Kennedy on Tuesday, September 5, 2017 at 9:00:00 am Comments (0)

 In 1971, Ellen Renish took a temporary receptionist job at a real estate office. The broker saw potential in her, and the two-week assignment turned into two months, then two years as she worked her way up to agents' assistant, then became a Realtor® herself.  

Ellen Renish 
2017-18 Chairwoman, Suburban Realtors® Alliance 
Continental Realty

Hometown (born/raised):  Mt. Airy (northwest Philadelphia)
Hometown (current): 
Collegeville 
Years as a Realtor®:  
41

Why did you first join the Alliance Board?

I was initially a member of the board of the Realtors Legislative Alliance, when it first formed, which later became the Suburban Realtors Alliance.  I was happy to be a part of this innovative group.  It truly was groundbreaking to have a regional political advocacy group.  It was and still is very exciting to be a part of a group of dedicated individuals in our profession devoted to advocating for positive laws and regulations affecting us.  We were trendsetters. 

What do you see as the most important legislative issue for Realtors® right now?

Local ordinance inconsistencies, such as in point of sale requirements, create challenges for our Realtor members, even though we were able to affect the passing of the Municipal Code and Compliance Act. Much education still needs to be done, both for Realtors and municipal employees.

We need to prevent increases to realty transfer tax and tax on our services, while encouraging individuals who understand real estate to run for office at all levels of governments.  I know you asked for what is the most important, but I can't come up with just one.  I am a political junkie!!

Describe the first deal you ever closed.

The first deal I ever closed, believe it or not, was generated by my very first night on floor time (back in the day!).  I received a call on a listing that my office had that was in a small subdivision under construction.  I scheduled an appointment with the caller after talking to the person.  I was really excited!  Showed the property the next night to the very nice couple.  I had just come back to work after having my first baby and was terrified that I was going to be working on commission only for a couple of months. 

The people that I met loved the property and did not want to see any others.  This was a great start for my real estate career and probably the easiest transaction ever!  I was totally hooked on real estate!!
 

Our profession is intertwined with our personal lives.

We eat, sleep, drink and dream real estate.


How do you like to spend your time when you're not working?

I love to read.  That is my R & R.  I work out 5 days a week, and that gives me energy and contemplation time.  I also love to dance whenever I have a chance.  If you ask my family and friends, they say I am always working.  It is hard to be turned off and tuned out for any length of time.  Our profession is intertwined with our personal lives.  We eat, sleep, drink and dream real estate.

What is one piece of advice you would give to a new Realtor®?

Create a system and stick to it. Be organized and focused. Be everywhere you can be, talking to everyone.  Get out of your comfort zone, learn as much as you can!  Be ethical, build your integrity, become a resource.  That's more than one thing, but it all goes together.

What book(s) is on your nightstand?

Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush by Jon Meacham

Offices/titles held: 

I have served as President of Central Montgomery Association of Realtors (now Montgomery County Association).  I was only the 3rd female President at that time in 1992.  I also served as PAR President in 2002, the 5th female to serve.  I am proud to currently serve as the Chairwoman of the SRA.

One last thought:  I am the RPAC Queen here in Montgomery County.  I cannot express how strongly I feel about investing in RPAC. It truly is insurance in our business.  It is the easiest way to participate in the political process.  And we all know that if Real Estate is our Profession, then Politics is our business!!

Monday, August 7, 2017

What You Should Know About Act 133, An Important New Tool for Realtors®

Posted by: Jamie Ridge on Monday, August 7, 2017 at 9:00:00 am Comments (0)

In February, I received a call from a Realtor® handling a home sale in a Delaware County municipality. With the closing only 2 weeks away, the code inspector in the borough was withholding a use and occupancy (U&O) permit until the seller completed a list of repairs to the home. These repairs included a cracked sidewalk, missing handrails, and window maintenance.

The borough’s decision to withhold a U&O permit might have been hard to challenge in 2016.  In 2017, circumstances have changed for the better. Thanks to state legislation approved last year and implemented on Jan. 2, municipalities must now issue a permit allowing sales to move forward, regardless of the outcome of completed code inspections.

With the new law in hand, I contacted the township’s solicitor and explained the amendments that had taken place. To his credit, the solicitor listened carefully, reviewed the changes, and directed the borough to issue the permit. The sale went through on schedule. A happy ending!

Unfortunately, not every municipality is so willing to bring their inspection practices into compliance with the new state law, officially titled Act 133 of 2016. That’s where our services can make a difference for you and your clients. We’re here to help you understand the new law, take full advantage of it, and assist you when municipalities try to ignore it.

What Act 133 means to your clients:

  • Once a municipality has conducted a resale code inspection, it must issue a resale certificate (U&O) to allow real estate settlements to move forward. There are three types of resale certificates: a normal U&O permit; a temporary U&O permit, allowing new owners to move in immediately and make repairs within 12 months; or a temporary access permit, a new type of permit allowing buyers of homes deemed “unfit for habitation” to access the building and make substantial repairs within 12 months.
  • Municipalities can no longer demand escrow money in connection with resale code inspections that result in required repairs.
  • The term “unfit for habitation” has been more clearly defined to describe homes that are “dangerous or injurious to the health, safety or physical welfare of an occupant or the occupants of neighboring dwelling.” As a result, code inspectors can no longer deny a U&O permit due to minor issues such as missing house numbers.

Call the Suburban Realtors® Alliance if:

  • …your client is being denied a U&O permit or a temporary access permit. The municipality must provide one as long as they have been given an opportunity to inspect the home.
  • …your client is being asked to provide escrow toward repairs on the home prior to the sale, as a condition of receiving a U&O permit.
  • …a municipal official tells you that Act 133 does not apply to them for any reason.

Nearly every day, the Alliance staff hears from Realtors® experiencing one of the problems above, so we have experience resolving them. We always recommend that agents schedule inspections at least 30 days before the scheduled closing, to allow sufficient time to work through any code-related issues.

Please note that not all municipalities require point of sale inspections for U&O permits, but many in southeastern PA do.  

You can read more about Act 133 in the Issue Briefs section of our website, www.suburbanrealtorsalliance.com. To learn more about the various code inspections required in our four-county territory – including Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Bucks – you can check out the SRA’s comprehensive Municipal Database at: http://www.suburbanrealtorsalliance.com/municipal-database/

(Photo: Governor Tom Wolf signs Act 133 of 2016, joined by Realtors® and legislators.)

Monday, June 26, 2017

Suburban Realtors® Alliance moves to new office

Posted by: Pete Kennedy on Monday, June 26, 2017 at 12:00:00 pm Comments (0)
 
The Suburban Realtors® Alliance have moved across town to a new office at 1 Country View Road, Suite 202, Malvern, PA, 19355.
 
In addition to being in an energy-efficient, certified LEED® Gold building, the new location places Alliance staff closer to the Pennsylvania Turnpike slip ramp, allowing them to travel more quickly to the communities served by the Alliance's three shareholder associations.
 
The office's phone number, fax number, website and employee email addresses remain the same.
 
 
Friday, June 23, 2017

Suburban West Realtors® Association Awarded Placemaking Grant to Help Improve Lansdowne Community

Posted by: Pete Kennedy on Friday, June 23, 2017 at 12:00:00 pm Comments (0)

LANSDOWNE, PA (June 23, 2017) – The Suburban West Realtors® Association (SWRA) has received a $4,000 placemaking grant from the National Association of Realtors® to help Lansdowne Borough create a public gathering space. 

“The new gathering spot, the Lansdowne Landing, has enhanced an already vibrant community,” said SWRA Chairman Steve D’Antonio. “We are glad that this grant has helped create a place where friends and neighbors can come together, and it is our hope that the project will enhance Lansdowne’s historic downtown.”

Inspired by popular outdoor gathering places like The Porch in Philadelphia’s University City neighborhood, Lansdowne Landing has already become a community hub since it opened in May. Fifteen parking spots were painted over with a colorful ground mural by local artist Brad Carney, filled with tables, chairs and toys, and lined with plants. The space has been used for farmers markets, live music performances, meditation classes and other activities and events.

“The Lansdowne Landing planning committee and the Borough Council are thrilled to be partnering with Suburban West Realtors on this exciting project,” said Susan Williams, a member of Lansdowne Borough Council. “The grant monies will go toward finishing up the project, which includes: the creation of about 11 barrel planter/light posts; over 300 feet of string lights to cast a fabulous glow over the incredible ground mural; the three ornamental trees that will be planted in pots to finish the Lounge area of the space; and some final furnishings.”

The grant is intended to help Realtor® associations partner with others to plan, organize, implement and maintain placemaking activities in their communities. Suburban West Realtors® collaborated with Councilwoman Williams, Borough Manager Craig Totaro and Mayor Anthony Campuzano on the project. The Suburban Realtors® Alliance assisted in the grant application.

“Realtors® live, work, and volunteer in their communities, and they take immense pride in working to improve them,” D’Antonio said. “Placemaking can help foster healthier, more social and economically viable communities. It creates places where people feel a strong stake in their neighborhoods and are committed to making things better.”

Placemaking grants are awarded to local and state Realtor® associations to help them and their members initiate placemaking projects in the community, like turning a parking lot into a farmer’s market or a vacant lot into a playground. Realtor® associations and their Realtor® members are actively engaged in the community and know the neighborhoods and the properties that would benefit most from these improvement efforts. 

Lansdowne Landing can be followed online at facebook.com/lansdownelanding. For more about National Association of Realtors® placemaking grants visit, realtoractioncenter.org/placemaking. For information about the Suburban Realtors® Alliance, which advocates for public policy that benefits local real estate markets and protects private property rights, visit suburbanrealtorsalliance.com.

The Suburban West Realtors® Association is comprised of approximately 5,800 Realtor® and affiliate members who serve communities in Chester County and Delaware County, and beyond. Its Realtor® members are licensed real estate professionals who subscribe to a strict code of ethics as defined by the National Association of Realtors®. For more information about the Suburban West Realtors® Association, please visit www.suburbanwestrealtors.com or call 610-560-4800.                                      

###

Top photo : Lansdowne Mayor Anthony Campuzano, Suburban Realtors® Alliance Government Affairs Manager Erin Smist, and Suburban West Realtors® Association Board Member Shannon Diiorio and Chairman Steve D’Antonio stand at the edge of the Lansdowne Landing, across the street from the historic Lansdowne Theatre.

Bottom photo: Lansdowne Landing, a new community gathering space in downtown Lansdowne, will benefit from a $4,000 placemaking grant received through the Suburban West Realtors® Association.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Alliance Office Visits: We'll Come to You!

Posted by: Pete Kennedy on Wednesday, June 14, 2017 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)

The Suburban Realtors® Alliance offers free office visits to members of its three shareholder organizations: the Bucks County, Montgomery County and Suburban West associations of Realtors®.

A staff member will come to your location to discuss the topics below and answer any questions:

  • Overview of the Suburban Realtors® Alliance and its services
  • Recent changes to state law affecting municipal real estate inspections
  • Federal and state legislative updates
  • Other topics related to municipal regulations that impact Realtors®
Click here to view a flyer about the office visits.
 
To schedule a visit, contact the Alliance at 610-981-9000 or sra@suburbanrealtorsalliance.com.

 

Friday, May 5, 2017

Reminder: Schedule inspections in a timely manner

Posted by: Pete Kennedy on Friday, May 5, 2017 at 12:00:00 pm Comments (0)

After noticing a slight increase in the number of use and occupancy inspection issues that are causing last minute delays in settlement, the Suburban Realtors Alliance (SRA) is reminding its members to request municipal inspections as early as possible. 

“When use and occupancy inspection or certificate issues come up a day or two prior to settlement, it can be very difficult to resolve them in a way that allows a transaction to move forward on time,” said Jamie Ridge, president/CEO of the Suburban Realtors Alliance. “We always recommend ordering these inspections at least 30 days prior to the settlement date to give municipal staff plenty of time to complete their work.”

Approximately 50 percent of municipalities in the SRA’s four-county territory require some level of code inspection prior to a home sale. Knowing where these inspections exist, and ordering them well in advance of a settlement date, is an important way to ensure that real estate transactions stay on schedule, Ridge said.

For more information about the various inspection requirements in southeastern PA, visit the SRA’s Municipal Database at: www.suburbanrealtorsalliance.com. The database is a password-protected benefit for members of the Bucks County, Montgomery County and Suburban West Realtor Associations.

 

Friday, April 28, 2017

Alliance CEO Addresses Montgomery County Boroughs Association

Posted by: Pete Kennedy on Friday, April 28, 2017 at 3:00:00 pm Comments (0)

Suburban Realtors Alliance president/CEO Jamie Ridge addressed representatives from 13 boroughs at the April 27  dinner meeting of the Montgomery County Boroughs Association.

At Woodside Lodge in Schwenksville, about 50 borough administrators and elected officials listened as Ridge spoke about recent amendments to the Municipal Code and Ordinance Compliance Act. The presentation ended with a question-and-answer session. 

"It was a great conversation about the issues faced by both municipalities and Realtors during the use and occupancy inspection process," Ridge said. "I thank the Montgomery County Boroughs Association for the invitation."

The Alliance maintains a municipal database of ordinances and other information that Realtors use to make sure they are complying with local regulations. Attendees received copies of their respective municipalities' database entries to review and, if needed, suggest changes. 

(Photo: Nevin Scholl, president, Trappe Borough Council, Pat Webster, REALTOR and Trappe Borough Council member, and Jamie Ridge, president/CEO, Suburban Realtors Alliance.)

Friday, April 22, 2016

Yardley Borough, local REALTORS team up for main street project

Posted by: Jamie Ridge on Friday, April 22, 2016 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)

YARDLEY, PA – Yardley Borough’s Business Enhancement Team (BET) and volunteers from the Bucks County Association of Realtors® (BCAR) teamed up on Wednesday April 20, to help spruce up a space in the borough that in recent years has become a summer concert venue and gateway into the borough’s main street and Buttonwood Park.

The improvement project, funded through a $2,500 grant from the National Association of Realtors® (NAR), included assembling newly purchased café tables, matching chairs and planters for the public sidewalk space between 9 and 15 South Main St. on Buttonwood Place. Last summer the space was utilized as the venue for BET’s “Music on Main” outdoor concert series, which drew more than 1,200 people over nine Saturdays.

According to Borough Councilman Jef Buehler, chairman of Yardley’s BET, the project will help create a more festive atmosphere for the summer concert series, and encourage more visitors and residents to linger downtown throughout the year.

“Our downtown has become even more beautiful thanks to this unique partnership between Yardley Borough and local Realtors,” Buehler said. “This is a great example of how local stakeholders can team up to improve important public spaces and encourage more main street commerce on a limited budget.”

Maryellen O’Brien, who currently serves as president of BCAR, said that 13 Realtors from the area participated in the project.

“The Realtors who showed up today are all small business people who care deeply about their communities and the family’s that live here,” O’Brien said. “We’re thankful for the opportunity to provide the funding for this project through our national association and work directly with BET to make it a reality.”

For more information about the Yardley BET, visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/YardleyBET/

 To learn more about National Association of Realtors® placemaking grants visit, realtoractioncenter.org/Placemaking.

 The Bucks County Association of Realtors represents more than 3,400 members living and working throughout the county and the region.      

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Bucks County Association of Realtors® awarded national grant to assist Yardley

Posted by: Jamie Ridge on Wednesday, March 2, 2016 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)

WARMINSTER, PA – The Bucks County Association of Realtors® (BCAR) has received a $2,500 grant from the National Association of Realtors® (NAR) to help Yardley Borough transform a currently under-utilized space on South Main St. into a signature gateway for the growing Buttonwood Place development, Buttonwood Park and the heart of the borough’s downtown.

According to Borough Councilman Jef Buehler, chairman of Yardley’s Business Enhancement Team (BET), the grant will be used to purchase colorful outdoor café tables and matching chairs, along with planters for the public sidewalk space between 9 and 15 South Main St. on Buttonwood Place. Last summer the space was utilized as the venue for BET’s “Music on Main” outdoor concert series, which drew more than 1,200 people over nine Saturdays.  

“Many of the attendees of last summer’s concert series said they would spend even more time enjoying our downtown and its businesses throughout the week if there were only more chairs and tables in this space,” Buehler said. “This grant will help us address that specific request while adding to the festive atmosphere of Music on Main and other events planned for the space.”

Maryellen O’Brien, who currently serves as president of BCAR, said the grant program is meant to help local Realtors® and their associations become more involved in the communities where they live and work.

“Realtors® live, work and volunteer in their communities and take immense pride in working to improve them,” O’Brien said. “These place making grants can help foster healthier, more social and attractive communities. All of these things can lead to a stronger and more stable local economy and housing market.”

For more information about the Yardley BET, visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/YardleyBET/

To learn more about National Association of Realtors® placemaking grants visit, realtoractioncenter.org/Placemaking.

The Bucks County Association of Realtors represents more than 3,400 members living and working throughout the county and the region.      

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

New state school funding formula is a crucial step, but pension crisis looms

Posted by: Jamie Ridge on Wednesday, July 22, 2015 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)

Much has been written over the past year about a proposed new education funding formula for Pennsylvania schools. As reported, the new formula would mark an important first step on the road to getting the state’s dysfunctional education funding system back on the right track. Most importantly, the funding formula promises to put school districts throughout the Commonwealth on more equal ground when it comes to education appropriations from the state.

If enacted by the legislature and Gov. Tom Wolf, the new formula will: 1) provide funding based on the average number of students in each district over the past three years; 2) give extra funding for impoverished students and English language learners in each district; 3) consider the number of students attending charter schools in a district to help cover the cost of revenue that follows students to those schools; and 4) factor in median household income, the local tax burden and taxing capacity of each district to help gauge the population’s ability to generate school funding. All of these steps will help ease the tremendous burden that poorer school districts in our region have faced over the past several years because no formula has been in place in the state.

REALTORS® should strongly consider supporting this new formula because it will help eliminate some of the inequities in state funding that have caused property taxes to soar in certain districts, making homes in those localities extremely hard to sell. But even this major reform, worked out over the past year, can’t save school districts and tax payers from major budgetary pain ahead without further heavy lifting by state lawmakers who have been reluctant to make tough choices. First and foremost on the priority list after the funding formula is in place is reform of the state’s public pension system, which threatens to place a heavy burden on taxpayers and deplete funds available for critical long-term investments – including education – if left untouched.

While there is some disagreement regarding what should be done to fix the system, most experts agree that years of large benefit increases, negligent underfunding, and several recessions have left the state's public pension funds in a huge budget hole. It is estimated that the two largest pension systems in the state – covering teachers and other government employees—are underfunded by more than $50 billion dollars.

How serious is this issue? The PA Institute of Certified Public Accountants says that at the state level, taxpayer contributions to pension plans will increase to $3.3 billion, or nearly 10 percent of the budget, by 2020. That’s compared to the $1.7 billion, or 6 percent of the budget, made in contributions this year. According to the CPAs, that rate of debt increase is “fiscally unsustainable and will prove increasingly unacceptable to taxpayers who must either pay increased taxes or forgo other services to pay for these liabilities.”

The effect of the pension crisis on school districts is already being felt. Beginning this month, the annual contribution level for districts to the pension fund will jump to 25.8%, up from 16.9% only two years ago. By 2019-20, that number will skyrocket to 32.2%. The fact that school districts are being asked to pay for more and more of the pension costs has much to do with the growing property tax burden we are feeling at the local level in southeastern PA. And much like the added government spending needed to cover entitlement debt at the federal level in the massive Social Security and Medicare programs, these school pension liabilities are beginning to “crowd out” investments that are needed to ensure a strong work force for the future of the Commonwealth.

What’s needed to fix the system? Many pension and budget experts agree that moving new employees into a defined contribution plan with 401(k)-style benefits would be a good first step. A tougher, more impactful fix might include rolling back benefit formula changes that some experts say helped produce the present-day crisis. Looking to other states that have dealt more effectively with their own pension challenges will also be critical.

As both citizens of the state and small business owners, REALTORS should strongly consider voicing their support for legislators who make the tough choices necessary to put the pension system back on a sustainable path before it’s too late.

 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

It's time for PA to get serious about governing municipal real estate inspections

Posted by: Jamie Ridge on Tuesday, December 23, 2014 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)

A recent poll conducted by the National Association of Home Builders and Wells Fargo highlighted the concern of home builders across the country over constantly tightening construction codes. It seems that approximately 35 percent of home builders recently polled are “extremely concerned” that construction codes are making new construction cost prohibitive “without a measurable improvement in safety or other benefits.”

Based on the stories we hear from our members on a weekly basis, I think it’s safe to say that home builders and REALTORS have much in common when it comes to feeling frustrated over building code creep. But while home builders are mostly concerned with codes that govern new home construction, our members must contend with the wildly inconsistent enforcement of building and property maintenance codes by municipalities at the point-of-sale (POS).

How difficult do some municipalities in southeastern PA make it to sell a home within their borders? According to our Realtor Association colleagues across the country, there are very few areas that face the same crazy rules and regulations regarding the sale of private property. So you want to sell your historic property in Caln Township? Better hope it meets the over-the-top standards of one of the strictest code enforcement departments in the region. Does your client live in Downingtown Borough? They may be required to replace the sidewalk, even if it’s only slightly worn. In Eddystone, be prepared for a team of municipal inspectors to descend on your client’s property on multiple occasions, and for those inspectors to find previously “missed” violations on follow-up visits. Are you selling a home to a rental property investor in Marcus Hook or Lower Chichester? That’ll be $5,000 to $10,000 for a new fire sprinkler system, please.

That’s the problem with the way municipalities are allowed to enforce property maintenance and building codes at the point-of-sale in Pennsylvania. While the state does have a “Uniform Construction Code” (UCC) in place for building and renovating homes, there is no such law that ensures a consistent standard for municipal home inspections. Worse yet, there is currently no fair way for home sellers or buyers to challenge an overzealous municipal code department that has decided to run rampant over their real estate transaction. When a township code inspector, manager or solicitor tells your client to “go ahead and sue us” if you want to challenge a particular demand, it’s all too clear that they’re holding the best hand.
     
So where do we go from here? The fact that we do have a uniform code in Pennsylvania for new construction gives me hope that a similar state-wide law may be possible for governing point-of-sale inspections. This type of law could include limitations on the scope of such inspections, and clearer guidelines for inspecting older homes. It could include strict limitations on the fees that municipalities can charge for such inspections, and set a stronger licensing standard for code officials. A ban on the absurd practice of requiring expensive infrastructure repairs – such as sidewalk and sewer lateral replacements – only at the point-of-sale would be a welcome addition to such a law. Finally, the law could set up a clear arbitration process – not controlled by the municipality or county – for instances in which home sellers or buyers feel the need to challenge a municipal code ruling without having to spend thousands of dollars on a lawsuit.

What are the chances of a municipal resale inspection law passing the PA legislature? With the UCC already in force for new construction, there is a strong precedent for this type of regulation.  Is there language you’d like to see in such a law? Send your ideas to grassroots@suburbanrealtorsalliance.com

Friday, January 10, 2014

‘This Doesn’t Make Sense’ Campaign Leads to Increased Awareness of Municipal Inspection Issues

point of sale
Posted by: Jamie Ridge on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)

By Jamie Ridge, president/ceo, Suburban REALTORS Alliance
Here at the Suburban REALTORS Alliance (SRA) we’ve noticed a significant increase in REALTOR-awareness regarding municipal “point-of-sale” inspection requirements since the Marchlaunch of our “This Doesn’t Make Sense” campaign and website.  This increased awareness has led to some very questionable municipal point-of-sale practices being brought to light by our members, and successfully challenged by the SRA.

In Chester County we learned that two boroughs – Phoenixville and Downingtown – were refusing to issue temporary use and occupancy certificates for required repairs that a buyer had agreed to complete after a sale. In both instances, the boroughs were in violation of the Pennsylvania Municipal Code and Ordinance Compliance Act (MCOCA), which states that: “a municipality shall not refuse to issue a use and occupancy certificate … on the basis of a substantial violation or require the correction of a substantial violation as a condition to issuing a use and occupancy certificate … unless the substantial violation renders the property unfit for habitation.”

After SRA staff reached out to each borough, they began issuing temporary certificates that allow real estate transactions to move forward.

In Delaware County, where the vast majority of municipalities have some form of point-of-sale inspection requirement, increased member input has allowed us to address Ridley Township’s refusal to issue temporary use and occupancy certificates for sidewalk repairs. Once again, township staff seemed unaware of the state law that requires the issuance of temporary certificates unless a property is being condemned.

Perhaps our favorite “success” story this year involves Suburban West member Nick Vandekar, who is also a member of the SRA’s board of directors. Nick was in the process of closing a deal in East Norriton Township in Montgomery County when their codes department mentioned a required sewer lateral repair and a hefty escrow requirement to allow a temporary U & O certificate.

Being quick on his feet, Nick was able to encourage a conversation between East Norriton staff and SRA staff.  After being provided with an explanation of the enforcement tools that the Code and Ordinance Compliance Act provides to townships when home owners don’t comply with the terms of a temporary U & O permit, the township dropped their escrow requirement for Nick’s transaction, and future transactions. We think that is teamwork at its best!

The ultimate goal of the ‘This Doesn’t Make Sense’ campaign is to not only raise our members’ awareness of these issues, but also public awareness.  By sharing the campaign website with your neighbors and clients, you can help us accomplish this goal. Once on the website – www.thisdoesntmakesense.org – guests can find information about the point-of-sale requirements in their municipality, and even send a pre-written message to their elected official about why these local real estate regulations do more harm than good.

When more of our local elected officials begin receiving these messages from residents of their townships and boroughs, perhaps they’ll think twice about introducing any further point-of-sale requirements. Even better, maybe they will strongly consider repealing inspection ordinances that are already in place.

After all, at a time when the economy is still recovering and home sales are just beginning to perk up, the last thing we need is more barriers to real estate transactions.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Secondary market reform is critical, and the details matter

Fannie Mae; Freddie Mac; Secondary Mortgage Market
Posted by: Jamie Ridge on Friday, August 16, 2013 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)

Based on a recent statement by President Obama and activity in Congress, it appears that Washington may finally be inching toward reforming secondary mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. While very few elected officials and market experts dispute the need for reform, opinions of how it should be accomplished vary greatly.  For future home owners and the REALTORS® who will serve their home buying and selling needs, the details of the final reform plan will matter a great deal.

To date, lawmakers in Washington appear to be aligning themselves with two different reform camps. The first, led by the president and a bipartisan group of moderate legislators, favors reforms that would significantly restructure the secondary mortgage market, while maintaining a critical role for the federal government. The second, led by conservatives in the House and Senate, would end the government’s long-time role as a guarantor in the secondary market altogether, leaving serious doubt that market liquidity would be maintained by private market entities during tough economic times.

The National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) has stated its opposition to the latter reform plan in terms that are loud and clear. According to 2013 NAR President Gary Thomas, “NAR supports a comprehensive approach to restructuring the secondary mortgage market, including winding down Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, but believes any new secondary market entity replacing the enterprises must have an explicit government guarantee.”

Without that guarantee, Thomas correctly argues, the nation’s $10 trillion mortgage market could lose a functioning secondary market, leading to its ultimate collapse. The impact of that collapse would result in a dramatic destruction of wealth for middle class Americans that would see the value of their homes fall significantly. The lack of a functioning secondary market would also lead to mortgage rates that are unnecessarily high and unaffordable for many Americans.

While NAR does argue that a federal guarantee is a necessary ingredient of any successful reform effort, it also warns against a restoration of the old, broken system. That system, unfortunately, resulted in the creation of two entities – Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – whose shareholders pushed private profits without demonstrating any concern for taxpayer losses.
Rather than an attempt to “fix” Fannie and Freddie, NAR is recommending that the president and Congress work toward the creation of new entities that are government-chartered, non-shareholder owned, and subject to strong oversight that “ensures they can accomplish their mission and protect the taxpayer.”

Along with the top priorities of protecting taxpayers and ensuring mortgage liquidity at all times, NAR is advocating for the following:

  • The new entities should guarantee or insure a wide range of safe, reliable mortgage products, to include 15 and 30-year fixed rate loans, traditional ARMs, and other products for which homeowners have “demonstrated a strong ability to repay.”
  • The establishment of “sound and sensible” underwriting standards for loans purchased and securitized in mortgage-backed securities (MBS), loans purchased for portfolio, and MBS purchases.
  • The entities should remain politically independent, and should not be allowed to lobby Congress or the administration. Their CEO’s should have fixed terms, so they cannot be fired without cause.
  • The entities should be self-funded instead of receiving ongoing government appropriations.

The American economy and individual home owners have benefitted greatly over the past 70 years from the stable source of mortgage funding provided through the government sponsored enterprises, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Let’s hope that their shocking failures, ultimately brought on by a harsh recession and too much focus on shareholder profit over taxpayer protection, has created enough urgency in Washington to introduce meaningful reforms that will help us avoid another such calamity.

The result of such a reform effort, if it can be accomplished by a Congress and president that haven’t proven their ability to accomplish much lately, would be a new and improved secondary mortgage market that could help sustain home ownership and the national economy into the distant future.

Jamie Ridge is president/CEO of the Suburban REALTORS Alliance

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