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New Data Security Regulations Set to Take Effect on March 1

On March 1, 2010, Massachusetts will join the majority of states that have enacted a comprehensive data security law governing the way personal information must be protected. The regulations use a risk-based approach that directs businesses to establish a written comprehensive information security program ("WISP") based on their size, scope and available resources. The regulations apply to any person or business that collects, owns or licenses personal information about a resident of the Commonwealth, including  real estate brokers and salespersons, as well as employees of real estate firms.

Personal information includes a person’s first and last name in conjunction with their: social security number; driver’s license number or state issued ID card number; financial account number including credit or debit card numbers. It is important to recognize that in many real estate transactions no personal information may be collected by the broker. However, when a broker has collected personal information, the broker needs to ensure that the information is protected in accordance with the regulations.

The new statute and regulations require persons or businesses with personal information to develop a WISP. The scope and complexity of the document will vary depending on the type of personal information you keep and the resources you have available. The WISP must identify the measures that will be taken to safeguard both electronic and hardcopy files. The WISP must also include measures to ensure protection of data maintained on a computer, laptops and portable devices.

For full details and information about WISP, visit our website http://www.gbreb.com/wisp/ which includes links to the Massachusetts Executive Office of Consumer Affairs compliance checklist, document of FAQs, and sample policy for small businesses.  You can also review the state requirements for Security Breach Notification online.   To view a webinar on the Commonwealth’s new privacy and security law hosted by the Massachusetts Association of REALTORS® visit marealtor.com. To view a webinar on the Commonwealth’s new privacy and security law hosted by the Massachusetts Association of REALTORS® visit marealtor.com.

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FHA Announces New Underwriting Guidelines

On January 20, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) announced several major changes intended to ensure its long-term financial soundness.  The goal of these changes in underwriting guidelines is to strengthen FHA reserves while maintaining the agency’s critical position in the mortgage market at a time when its federally backed loans comprise about 40 percent of the market.

Among the most notable revisions, FHA has announced an increase in the up-front mortgage insurance premium by 50 basis points from 1.75 percent to 2.25 percent; a FICO credit score floor of 580 for borrowers to qualify for the agency’s 3.5 percent minimum down payment (borrowers with a credit score below 580 will be required to have at least a 10 percent minimum down payment); and a reduction in seller concessions from 6 percent to 3 percent of the mortgage amount.

By most accounts the new changes appear to be a victory for home buyers, as evidenced by the fact the agency retained its 3.5 percent minimum down payment requirement and will continue to allow the upfront mortgage insurance premium to be financed.  FHA has carefully balanced its need to make financial reforms with the need to keep FHA available to a large segment of consumers, according to NAR.  For more information on the FHA changes which are due to implemented later this spring and summer, reference NAR’s summary brief on the issue.

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IRS Issues Revised Form to Claim Home Buyer Tax Credit

The Internal Revenue Service has issued IR-2010-6, which provides a revised Form 5405 to reflect the changes to the home buyer tax credit approved last November as part of legislation to extend and expand the tax credit. The release reminds taxpayers that those claiming the credit cannot use the IRS E-File automatic system, and instead must file their returns manually.

The revised form includes a section for repeat buyers who are eligible to claim the $6,500 tax credit. The HUD-1 form or other evidence of the transaction must be filed with all returns claiming the credit (both the $8,000 and $6,500 credits).  Individuals who claim the repeat buyer credit must also provide evidence that they have owned and used the prior residence for five consecutive years. The form indicates that property tax or homeowners insurance records are sufficient for this purpose. For more information, including important facts about the home buyer tax credit and instructions for completing Form 5405, visit the IRS website

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Closing Cost Assistance and Appliance Incentive for Fannie Mae Homes

REALTORS®, your buyers may be interested in learning about a new initiative from Fannie Mae available until the end of April.  Under the special promotion, Fannie Mae is offering a 3.5% incentive for buyers who purchase and close on Fannie Mae Homes between January 28 and April 30, 2010. Buyers purchasing properties listed on the HomePath site by Fannie Mae that are closed within this period may receive up to 3.5% of the final sales price for closing costs, the purchase of new Whirlpool® appliances by Fannie Mae, or a mix of closing costs and appliances, at the buyers discretion, up to the maximum of 3.5%.

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GBAR's Real Estate Rewind Now Available

As a reminder, the latest issue of GBAR’s quarterly housing market report Real Estate Rewind, is now available online.  Data reports for the fourth quarter of last year as well as 2009 year-end figures for all 54 cities and towns in the GBAR/GBREB jurisdiction, plus 10 adjacent communities, have been posted for your reference and use, with comparison data also posted for the same periods one year earlier.  Separate reports are available for the detached single-family home and condominium markets and contain data from MLS-PIN on sold properties, median selling price, days on market, units placed under agreement, and inventory of unsold homes by community.

As a GBAR Member, all data contained in current and archived issues of Real Estate Rewind is made readily available for your own use in listing presentations, inclusion in e-newsletters or other marketing materials, and on your website.  Simply list the Greater Boston Association of REALTORS® as the source of the information.

As we approach the spring market, you might also find of value the presentation delivered by NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun on February 1 at GBAR’s program entitled Spring Housing & Mortgage Market Outlook.  At the session, Dr. Yun presented his economic and housing market forecast for the U.S. and New England in which he noted that the Greater Boston housing market is typically among the first to enter into as well as climb out of a market downturn, and metropolitan Boston, in fact, experienced a couple of months of price gains at the end of 2009 which may suggest that home prices have already hit bottom here and are poised to stabilize further in the months ahead.     

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Learn Tips to Boost Your Business at Real Estate CyberConvention & Expo

Attend the National Real Estate CyberConvention & Expo.   Discover the latest tech tools that can save time and money, learn new strategies to increase productivity, and gain insights on how to build and promote your business from top industry experts and trainers.  Register by Feb. 12 for best price.  As a sponsoring group of the conference, members of GBAR also receive a $10 discount off the registration fee through a special promotional offer.

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REALTORS® Join in on Haiti Relief Effort

Following the catastrophic earthquake that devastated Haiti last month, the REALTOR® organization is taking action to help contribute to the relief efforts. The National Association of REALTORS® recently donated $550,000 to support the delivery of much needed supplies and the provision of medical care for the people of Haiti.  NAR has made a $500,000 donation to the Clinton Bush Haiti Fund, which is supporting earthquake recovery efforts with immediate relief and long-term support to earthquake survivors, and a $50,000 contribution was made to The Harvest of Haiti, a humanitarian outreach program that supports orphans and delivers clean water and provides medical care on the island.  For up-to-the-minute information about these efforts, visit realtor.org.

If you’d like to make a contribution of your own, please consider a donation the REALTORS® Relief Foundation of NAR by going online and completing the contribution form.  Please remember that a small amount can go a long way, and any donation is greatly appreciated.

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