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May 26, 2011

REALTORS® Among Those Subject to MARS Rule  

Real estate agents and brokers who handle short sale transactions or otherwise help financially-troubled homeowners in renegotiating mortgage terms are among those affected by new federal rules regulating Mortgage Assistance Relief Service (MARS) providers. Developed by the Federal Trade Commission in 2010, the MARS rule is intended to protect homeowners of distressed property from falling victim to mortgage relief scams. It imposes uniform requirements on both individuals and companies who, in exchange for consideration, offer to negotiate either a modification to a consumer’s loan or a short sale.

Most notably, the rule requires certain general disclosures to be made to consumers when promoting mortgage assistance relief services. This includes all advertisements as well as other communications, such as e-mail and phone calls between real estate professionals and consumers. The MARS rule also includes a prohibition against upfront fees. As a result, MARS providers cannot receive a fee until the consumer’s loan is modified, and this ruling extends to real estate professionals who plan on negotiating a short sale with a lender or arranging such negotiations. Finally, there are record-keeping requirements which mandate for all transactions covered by the MARS rule real estate professionals must retain for 2 years all MARS advertisements, sales records, customer communications, and customer contracts, including all of the disclosures made to consumers that were required by the MARS rule.

To learn more, visit the MARS rule issues page on REALTOR.org for a newly-developed FAQ document, updates on NAR efforts to request additional guidance from the FTC, and to register for a webinar on this topic scheduled for May 26.

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REALTORS® Visit Capitol Hill – Support Efforts to Preserve MID, Existing Loan Limits

Approximately three dozen GBAR members attended the NAR Legislative Meetings in Washington, D.C. earlier this month and many traveled to Capitol Hill to visit with lawmakers to voice the REALTOR® organization’s position on important legislation and public policy issues impacting homeowners and the housing industry. Face-to-face meetings took place with several members of the Massachusetts Congressional Delegation including Reps. Michael Capuano (D-Somerville), Stephen Lynch (D-Boston), Edward Markey (D-Malden), and Senator Scott Brown (R-Wrentham). Among the key topics of discussion, REALTORS® voiced support for preservation of the mortgage interest deduction, a continued role for the federal government in the secondary mortgage market as part of any restructuring of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and the reauthorization of the National Flood Insurance Program for at least five years.

Additionally, GBAR members urged members of Congress to oppose any decrease in the FHA and GSE loan limits. Currently, the ceiling on these limits are set at 125 percent of the local area median home price (or up to $729,750), but will reset to 115 percent of the local area median price (or a maximum of $625,000) on October 1, 2011. Legislation (H.R. 1754) filed this past week, if passed, would make the current loan limit permanent, and is critical to keeping buyers active in the market especially in high-cost markets like Greater Boston. The REALTOR® organization supports making the current higher loan limits and formula permanent, and maintains that any lowering of the existing limits will further restrict mortgage liquidity and have a severe negative effect on the current housing market recovery.

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Regulatory Proposal Would Require 20% Down Payment on QRMs – Join CFA Now

The fragile recovery now underway in the housing market could be unnecessarily damaged by a proposed new rule on securitized loans that would require home buyers to make a 20 percent down payment on a qualified residential mortgage (QRM). The QRM was developed as part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform & Consumer Protection Act, and refers to safe, well-underwritten mortgages that are exempt from the Act’s risk retention requirement which mandates lenders retain 5 percent of the value of the loans they securitize on their books as a means to promote responsible lending practices.

If implemented, this proposal by federal banking regulators will effectively price many eligible home buyers out of the market by raising costs for borrowers who will be forced to pay higher rates and fees for “safe” loans. In response, the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) has issued a legislative Call-For-Action on this issue, which we encourage all members to participate in by sending a pre-drafted letter to federal lawmakers stating the REALTOR® organization’s opposition to the proposed 20 percent down payment rule.

While NAR supports the QRM concept and a goal of requiring banks to only put up “safe” loans for securitization, the proposed QRM rule by regulators would create an enormous down payment burden and reduce the availability of affordable mortgages for qualified consumers, say association officials. In fact, NAR data indicates it would take the typical person 14 years to save up a 20 percent down payment to purchase a median-priced home in the U.S. We urge you to join with us in communicating to Congress that a more reasonable qualified residential mortgage is necessary to keep credit-worthy buyers in the market by participating in the Call-For-Action on QRMs.

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NAR Directors Approve REALTOR® Party Political Initiative, Modify IDX Policy

The National Association of REALTORS® Board of Directors voted on May 14 to approve implementation of a new REALTOR® Party Political Survival Initiative (RPPSI) that will provide funding and resources to support issues advocacy campaigns and independent expenditure campaigns for candidates for elected public office at the local, state and national levels. To pay for this initiative, the NAR portion of annual REALTOR® dues will increase from $80 to $120 in 2012. Approximately one-quarter of the monies raised from the $40 dues increase will be used to supplement activities of the REALTORS® Political Action Committee (RPAC), while 73 percent will be used to bolster grass-roots efforts undertaken by local and state REALTORS® associations to advance public policy positions and initiatives or support candidates for elected public office who share the REALTOR® position on important industry issues, such as preservation of private property rights, housing affordability, and homeownership programs.

At its meeting earlier this month, the NAR Directors also voted to add an opt-in provision to the “franchisor index and display” section of the association’s Internet Data Exchange (IDX) policy that was initially adopted in November 2010. This rule change is intended to address concerns expressed by real estate brokerage networks, such as The Reality Alliance and Leading Real Estate Companies of the World, which argued that the NAR’s policy allowing franchisors to index and display IDX listings in any market where they had obtained permission to do so from their own franchisees had the potential to provide the franchisor an unfair competitive advantage by helping them to boost website traffic that the companies could then refer to their franchisees. Under this modification to the rule, which will take place in mid-June, real estate brokers must “opt-in” if they want their listings to be displayed on the national websites of real estate franchisors, such as Century 21, Keller Williams Realty, and RE/MAX.

Notably, the NAR Multiple Listing Issues & Policy Committee had recommended to the NAR Board of Directors suspending the franchisor IDX indexing provision until NAR’s Annual Convention this November thereby allowing a work group to study the issue further and assess concerns raised by advocates and critics of the rule. However, the NAR Directors chose to pass a motion to allow brokers who want their listings to continue to appear on the websites of franchisors they are not affiliated with to opt-in to franchisor IDX indexing and display while the work group prepares its report for NAR’s Annual Meeting.

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Sales of single-family homes and condos down 20% in April

Sales of detached single-family homes and condominiums each fell sharply in April from the same month last year as many prospective home buyers continue to take a wait and see attitude regarding the housing market. With mortgage rates stable and still at attractive levels, new inventory slow to come onto the market this spring, and the absence of any meaningful financial incentives (such as last year’s federal home buyer tax credit) to stimulate sales, the volume of single-family homes sold last month declined 20.3 percent from April 2010, and condo sales dropped 22.6 percent this April from the comparable month one year ago.

With fewer buyers in the market, the median selling price of detached single-family homes slipped nearly 2 percent over the past 12 months to $432,000 this April, while the average market time increased by nearly one month to 127 days over the past year. In the condominium market, where the number of units available for sale is down almost 10 percent from year ago levels, the median selling price increased modestly by 6 percent to $355,000 this past April, and average market time rose by less than a week to 116 days. To view all of last month’s data and to get a more detailed analysis on the housing market in Greater Boston, visit the Monthly Housing Reports page on gbar.org.

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REALTORS® to Talk Policy With Beacon Hill Lawmakers – Register to Join Discussion

REALTORS® from across the Bay State will be gathering at the Massachusetts State House on Wednesday, June 8 for the 26th Annual REALTOR® Day on Beacon Hill. This is an opportunity for you to speak directly with state legislators on issues affecting your business, the rights of property owners, and the housing industry in Massachusetts. Among the legislation and issues to be discussed will be pilot programs now underway in the Commonwealth to implement energy scoring and labeling of homes; revisions to the state’s rent escrowing laws; and an initiative to increase the number of continuing education credits required for real estate license renewal.

The free program officially begins at 10 a.m. and will include an address by invited keynote speaker Massachusetts Lt. Governor Tim Murray, as well as an issues briefing on the REALTOR® organization’s legislative priorities for 2011. Following the session at the State House, GBAR members are invited to attend a complimentary networking lunch at the Greater Boston Real Estate Board (GBREB) offices with local legislators to discuss bills of primary interest to the real estate industry.

To avoid the expense and hassle of driving and parking in Boston, we encourage members to carpool to REALTOR® Day on Beacon Hill with elected GBAR leadership. Several pick-up locations will be designated within the GBAR jurisdiction where you will be met by an association officer or director who has agreed to drive into Boston. To register to attend, log onto the REALTOR® Day on Beacon Hill program information page. For carpool reservations and locations, contact Kate Reynolds at kreynolds@gbreb.com or by calling 617-399-7840.

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Nominate a Deserving Colleague for a GBAR Member Recognition Award

Do you know a deserving colleague or affiliate member whose professionalism and volunteer service to the REALTOR® association and the local community or charitable causes sets them apart from others? If so, why not nominate him or her for one of this year’s GBAR member recognition awards? Nominations are being sought for Affiliate Member of the Year, the Andrew F. Hickey Distinguished Service Award, Good Neighbor Award, Greater Boston REALTOR® of the Year, GBAR Good Neighbor, and REALTOR® Spirit Award.

Members may be nominated for one or more of the above awards. The entry deadline for nominations is July 1, 2011. For more information, including the purpose and criteria for each award, as well as nomination forms, visit gbar.org to download the GBAR Awards Nomination packet.

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Candidates Sought for 2012 REALTOR® Leadership Positions   

Would you like to have an active voice in setting policy and being a decision-maker for the REALTOR® organization on the local and/or state level in the coming year? Or, do you know a well-qualified colleague who should be considered for a leadership role in the association? If so, we invite you to submit a nomination form for yourself or a fellow REALTOR® to serve in one or more of the following elected positions: officer or director of the Greater Boston Association of REALTORS® (GBAR); director of the Greater Boston Real Estate Board; regional vice president or state director with the Massachusetts Association of REALTORS® (MAR); or director of the National Association of REALTORS® in 2012.

Nominations for individuals interested in serving as the MAR regional vice president from Greater Boston are due by May 31, while the nomination period for all other leadership positions is open until August 1, 2011. For detailed descriptions of the responsibilities of each elected office and qualification criteria, you may download the GBAR Nomination Packet from gbar.org.

Nominations of all candidates meeting the qualifications of the office or position they seek to hold in 2012 will be carefully considered by the GBAR Nominating Committee later this summer, with a formal slate to be noticed in September, and subsequently presented to the GBAR Board of Directors for vote in October.

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