Have you heard about “Zillow Offers”?

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It’s not available in South Carolina yet, but it may be a matter of time

zillow-logo

In early 2017, Zillow tipped its toe into the process of selling homes by launching a product it called “Instant Offers”. The product was initially tested in Las Vegas and Orlando and was described as a method for homeowners to sell their homes for a discounted price without the traditional complications of repairing, listing, staging and allowing for open houses.

The process started with a homeowner providing basic information via Internet about the home (square footage, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and remodeling information) and uploading photos. The Zillow product then connected the homeowner with investors who buy homes in the area, and, typically, an all-cash offer was made by one or more of the investors. The homeowner paid no fee for the service and was not obligated to accept any offers. Zillow touted the product as a method to alleviate the seller’s stress and to allow the seller to close in a shorter timeframe.

Other companies, OpenDoor and OfferPad were already operating in this space at the time of the Zillow launch. The launch was called another example of technology disrupting the process of closing real estate transactions.

Real estate agents, of course, met the news with alarm. They said sellers would be suckered into making mistakes that might cost them the education of their kids, vacations or just the ability to sleep better at night because they have more money in their bank accounts. An online petition was initiated, asking the National Association of Realtors to threaten Zillow with being removed from access to listings. The NAR responded that it could not sponsor or encourage such a boycott.

Zillow has always stated publicly that it is not in the business of getting rid of real estate agents. Its executives called Zillow a media company, not a real estate company, and said it sold ads, not real estate. Even the Instant Offers program encouraged sellers to use a realtor even while avoiding the traditional listing and sales process. The question then became the amount of commission the real estate agent would earn for reduced services. When real estate agents initially complained about Instant Offers, Zillow responded that 70% of its revenue came from working with real estate agents.

In early 2018, however, Zillow announced that it would begin buying homes directly from sellers and then turning around and selling them. With this announcement, Zillow began selling ads and houses. Two test markets were announced, Las Vegas and Phoenix. Zillow said that when it buys homes, it will make the necessary repairs and updates and list the homes as quickly as possible. Zillow said local real estate agents would represent Zillow in the transactions. Zillow also announced in a press release that the vast majority of sellers who requested an Instant Offer ended up selling their homes with agents.

The program was later launched in several other markets, Phoenix, Atlanta, Denver and Charlotte. And last week, Zillow announced that it would be expanding to Miami, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Nashville, Orlando and Portland in 2019. So far, nothing is in the works for South Carolina as far as we know, but I did get a kick out of one article that referred to one of the markets as “Charlotte, South Carolina”.

Stay tuned for more news on this topic. Real estate lawyers will need to figure out how to remain in the game whether properties are sold through the Internet or not!

Good News for Condo Financing (and King Tut)

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Obtaining loans for SC’s coastal condominiums will become easier

The Housing Opportunity through Modernization Act (H.R. 3700) was signed into law by President Obama on July 29. This law will act to ease restrictions on mortgage financing for condominiums. The law reforms the process used by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) to determine if condominium unit owners will be in a position to qualify for FHA insurance.

In 2009, FHA changed the rules for qualifying for insurance, leaving most condominium home buyers without the opportunity for FHA insured mortgages. The new law will result in some improvements for home buyers who view condominiums as an affordable housing option.

Under the new law, the FHA must issue guidance regarding the percentage of units that must be occupied by owners in order for the condominium project to be eligible for FHA mortgage insurance. The current requirement is 50 percent owner occupancy. In the event the FHA fails to issue guidance within ninety days of the effective date of the legislation, the required percentage for owner occupancy automatically becomes 35 percent.

Steve Martin King Tut
“Got a condo made of stone-a”

 

The new law amends the National Housing Act to modify certification requirements for condominium mortgage insurance to make recertifications of condominium projects substantially less burdensome than original certifications. The FHA is required to consider lengthening the time between certifications for approved properties and allowing information to be updated rather than resubmitted.

It will be interesting to see how the FHA implements the new law. Changes to FHA regulations and existing agency guidelines should be expected soon.

The National Association of Realtors has been a proponent of the new law and praised its passage in a press release as a victory for real estate agents and home buyers.

This law affects housing in other ways. It modifies HUD’s rental assistance programs, including Section 8 low-income (voucher) and public housing programs. In addition, it modifies the Department of Agriculture’s single family housing guaranteed loan program.

The expectation is that the new law will make home ownership for first-time buyers (and old King Tut in his “condo made of stone-a”) a little easier in the current economic environment.