Monday, January 28, 2008

Who Is Your Buyer Agent Representing?

The case of a California couple who are suing their real estate agent because they feel they overpaid for their home in 2004 has ignited a firestorm within the real estate community. The N.Y. Times featured the case in a recent article, and the Today Show ran a segment on the suit. Amazingly, according to NAR, this is the first known case where a buyer's agent has been sued by a buyer over valuation issues.

According to the article in the Times, Marty and Vernon Ummel purchased a home in 2005 using the services of Mike Little, a veteran agent with Re/Max Associates. The Ummels claim that Mr. Ummel, who was also working as a mortgage broker, encouraged them to obtain their loan through him. The suit charges that the Ummels requested a copy of the appraisal ordered by Mr. Little prior to the closing, but that it was not provided to them until after they moved into the home.

The Ummels apparently realized something was amiss when they got a flier from another real estate agent in August of 2005, a few days after they moved into their home, which showed that a house up the street had just sold for $105,000 less than theirs, even though it was the same size. When they finally got their appraisal, they learned that the house up the street was not only cheaper, but that it also had a pool. In early October of that same year, they learned from a separate flier that yet another similar sized home on the same street closed the same day as theirs but sold for $175,000 less.

The Ummels accuse Mr. Little not only of withholding information, but of exaggerating the value of the house to push them into a deal. In her deposition, Mrs. Ummel testified that Mr. Little had told them "many times that it was a very good buy."

In an interview with the Times, Mr. Little called the case "ridiculous,", adding: "The lady's a nut job. I didn't do anything wrong." He blamed the suit on a declining market. "When people see their home values and assets declining, they always feel there's someone to blame," he said. "This is a dangerous time for all of us in the industry," Mr. Little remarked.

The mortgage broker, and the appraiser, who was accused of skewing his report to make the Ummel's house seem worth the purchase price, have both settled out of court. The case against Mr. Little and Re/Max Associates is scheduled to go to trial on Monday, January 28th in San Diego County.

If Mr Little did indeed fail to disclose the appraisal/prior sale information to his clients in order to save the deal, and his reported $30,000 commission, he has almost certainly breached his fiduciary duties to his clients as their buyer's agent (if he was in fact acting in that capacity, as there was no signed buyer agency agreement). The duty of an agent to disclose material information to their client is well-recognized. It is difficult for me to imagine a scenario where a recent comparable sale just up the street of which an agent has actual knowledge would not be considered to be material. If an agent has knowledge of any information which may influence their client's decision whether or not to purchase, that information is material and should be disclosed.

The fact that Mr. Little was also acting as the Ummels' loan originator is also of concern. Buyer agents must be cognizant of any relationship which could potentially pose a conflict of interest between the agent's duty of loyalty to their client and their own financial interests. A number of agents commenting on this case have repeated the old adage that "pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered." Greed, and the viewing of a client as a profit center, rather than as a principal, can easily lead to legal liability for breach of one's fiduciary duties.

Undoubtedly, there have been a number of instances in recent years where buyer agents have not fulfilled their fiduciary obligations to their clients. Up until now, soaring property values have masked many of these shortcomings. With property values now in freefall, one can expect that buyer agents who have failed to fulfill their fiduciary duties to their clients will be called to task.

Labels: ,

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Petoskey, Michigan - Terrific Retirement Town

Petoskey, Michigan is being featured along with seven other towns in the January/February 2008 issue of Where to Retire magazine, in an article entitled "8 Terrific Low-Tax Towns."

The article notes that ". . . in Petoskey, the skiing, sailing and scenery attract many retirees who also enjoy upscale dining options, a charming downtown with boutique shopping and a reasonable cost of living." The article explains that the yearly local tax burden on a hypothetical retired couple with an annual income of $60,000 and a home value of $225,000 would be $4,084.00 This amount would be even lower for a home located outside the city limits. Resort and Bear Creek Townships, for instance, both have lower property tax rates than those in the city proper.

Other terrific low-tax towns featured include Easton, Maryland, Oxford, Mississippi, Gainesville, Georgia, Fairhope, Alabama, Staunton, Virginia, Ashland, Oregon and Kalispell, Montana. Once again Petoskey finds itself in great company! If you are considering places to retire, make sure you come see why everyone is raving about Petoskey. The natural beauty of the area is unsurpassed, we have abundant recreational and cultural opportunities, we are a very safe community with an excellent quality of life, we have a first class regional medical center, and it is an affordable place to live. What more could you ask for?


Monday, January 14, 2008

Harbor Springs Real Estate Market Posts Weakest Numbers in Recent History

Harbor Springs real estate market activity plummeted in 2007, with unit sales and total dollar volume of single family residential transactions posting lows not seen since at least prior to 2001, the last year for which sales statistics are available through the Northern Michigan Multiple Listing Service's computerized database.

There were 118 sales of Harbor Springs homes and Harbor Springs condominiums in 2007, defined as sales of properties located within the Harbor Springs School District. The total dollar volume of those sales was $50,296,695. This compares with 147 sales last year, and a record total dollar volume of $64,669,046. Unit sales volume was off almost 20% from 2006 to 2007, while total dollar volume was off almost 23%.

The total dollar volume of sales was the lowest in recent history. The next lowest total was posted in 2001, the last year for which computerized data is available. In 2001, there were 188 sales with a total dollar volume of $52,825,456. Sales in 2001 were impacted by the terrorist attacks on 9/11/2001.

On a brighter note, the median sales price declined only modestly to $261,500, from $267,500 in 2006 and $269,000 in 2005. The median sales price in 2001 was $225,000.

Note: Based on information from the Northern Michigan Multiple Listing Service for the period from January 1, 2001 - December 31, 2007.

Labels: ,

Grand Traverse County Construction Spending Down

The Traverse City Record Eagle is reporting that construction spending in Grand Traverse County slumped to $152.6 million in 2007, the lowest amount in more than seven years.

The article also paints a bleak picture for 2008. A representative from Traverse City based Comstock Construction Co. indicates that their business was "pretty static" from 2006 to 2007, but that they are down approximately fifty percent from a record year for construction in 2004. Comstock Construction Co.'s workforce has shrunk from 140 emplyees a few years ago to 60 workers last year.

Labels: ,

Monday, January 07, 2008

Petoskey Real Estate Market Year End Report

Not surprisingly, Petoskey residential real estate sales volume decreased in 2007 from 2006. Unit sales of homes and condominiums in the Petoskey School District decreased to 255 units from 282 units, a decline of over 9%. Sales by dollar volume also fell, from $98,896,350 in 2006 to $82,476,049 in 2007, a decline of more than 16%.

Despite the decline in sales activity for Petoskey homes and condominiums, the median Petoskey home price actually increased by just under 1%, from $188,500 in 2006 to $190,000 in 2007. Average days on market was almost unchanged, from 200 days in 2006 to 199 days in 2007 for those homes which sold. The average price paid for a Petoskey home dropped from $350,696 in 2006 to $323,435 in 2007.

Note: Based on information obtained from the Northern Michigan Multiple Listing Service for the period from January 1, 2006 - December 31, 2007.

Labels: ,