5 to Watch: July/August 2011

News and trends that we're keeping an eye on this month.

July 1, 2011

1. QRM: Regulators Agree to Slow Down

In a small but notable victory for consumers and REALTORS®, federal banking regulators pushed back to Aug. 1 from June 10 the deadline for public comment on their controversial rule to define a safe, qualified residential mortgage as one with at least 20 percent down, among other strict underwriting criteria. If the rule is finalized as is, lenders would have to retain a 5 percent stake in the vast majority of new loans—those that don’t meet the 20 percent down payment threshold. NAR estimates that financing costs for loans not meeting the requirements would be up to 100 basis points higher than other mortgages, knocking many would-be buyers out of the market. NAR insists Congress was looking for sound underwriting, not high down payment rules, as among the key criteria for defining safe mortgages. Regulators, including the Federal Reserve and FDIC, will consider the comments after the Aug. 1 deadline before publishing a final rule.

2. New NAR Certification Responds to BPO Demand

The Broker Price Opinion Resource certification that NAR launched during the Midyear Legislative Meetings & Trade Expo in May is intended to boost REALTORS®’ skills in preparing the informal property valuations, which are becoming popular amid escalating REO and short sales. "In this changing marketplace, it’s imperative REALTORS® be knowledgeable about how BPOs work and what risks they entail," President Ron Phipps said at the program rollout. More than 150 members participated in the certification’s inaugural class held during the meetings. Participation in a follow-up webinar is required for certification. Upon completion, members are eligible for BPO orders through a partnership with the REALTORS Property Resource™, NAR’s property database.

3. New Platform for Submitting Appraisals to GSEs

Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are set to roll out a common approach for receiving and handling appraisal data. The standardization was mandated by the companies’ regulator, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, to improve operational efficiencies and the accuracy of appraisal data. To help appraisal submissions from appraisers, lenders, and appraisal management companies conform to the new standardized requirements, which take effect Sept. 1, real estate technology company a la mode is offering, free of charge, the use of a new, compatible platform called DataCourier so lenders and AMCs can submit appraisals in compliance with the new standards.

4. NAR Members Fleshing out Political Initiative

Implementation of the initiative to help maintain and expand REALTORS®’ influence in the political process at the local, state, and national levels in the wake of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision is underway. Members of the Issues Mobilization Committee are laying the groundwork for disbursing funds and technical assistance to local and state associations facing tough issue campaigns. Members of the REALTOR® Party Coordinating Committee are finalizing plans to provide campaign support to local and state associations to help elect REALTOR® champion candidates. The NAR Board of Directors passed the initiative May 14 after extensive debate. Some of the funds will be used for independent expenditure activities for federal candidates, but a majority of the funds—73 percent—will be used to bolster state and local advocacy campaigns and grassroots outreach.

5. Half of Online Leads Go Unanswered

Practitioners are ignoring or taking excessive time to respond to nearly 75 percent of online customer leads, a secret-shopping exercise by PCMS Consulting in Atlanta and One Cavo in Denver found. In the exercise, the companies evaluated 715 responses to Internet leads by sales associates and staff at 56 brokerages. Half of the leads were specific to certain sales associates; the other half were through the companies’ IDX sites. Nearly 50 percent of sales associates didn’t respond to the leads, and 46 percent of the IDX inquiries went unanswered. Almost a quarter of the leads received responses that came, on average, eight hours after the forms were submitted. That’s not good enough, REALTOR® Magazine’s "Mr. Internet" columnist Michael Russer says in "6 Best Practices for Online Leads." Online consumers, he says, "expect a very fast response to their inquiries. Ideally, you respond to e-mail within a few minutes." That’s something virtual assistants can help practitioners with if they can’t check e-mail or company Web sites all day, he says.

Robert Freedman

Robert Freedman is the former director of multimedia communications at NAR.