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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.
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.
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.
2017-18 Chairwoman, Suburban Realtors® Alliance
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.
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
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!!