Wednesday, October 08, 2008


Starting with the premise that commerce is activated by supply and demand, I want to look at what is wrong with the Martha’s Vineyard real estate market today. What I discovered was that, in fact, there is nothing wrong with the Martha’s Vineyard real estate market; it is just that this market is confusing to many people and even more confusing today given the dire conditions in the financial market and a disparity in seller motivation factors. But first let me establish a few facts as guidelines:
<> This is not a place people have to be, they want to be here. Martha’s Vineyard is a destination and for the most part, a second home market.
<> This Island is only 20.5 miles long, 87.48 square miles in total land area --- they are not making any more of Martha’s Vineyard.
<> With home prices averaging almost 100% higher than the national average, ranging from $300,000 for a shabby ‘fixer-upper’ to $25,000,000 and above not everyone can afford to swallow that pill.
<> The cost of living is about 60% above the mean, so once again living here is surely not for everyone, but that does not diminish its popularity.
<> There are between 775 and 850 properties on the market, depending upon the method of tabulation used, which is about four times as many properties as there were at the height of the market.
<> The current inventory is about one-quarter of what we had to deal with after the market broke in 1988, and the population density has increased significantly since 1990.

The total inventory at the time of this writing totals 777 properties. I want to break down that number, which includes all classifications of properties so you have a better perspective:
<> Up to $200,000 = 7 properties (Note: This includes a share in a fishing camp, an aircraft hanger, time shares and an office condo.)
<> $201,000 - $400,000 = 86 properties
<> $401,000 - $600,000 = 162 properties
<> $601,000 - $800,000 = 140 properties
<> $801,000 - $1,000,000 = 85 properties
<> $1,100,000 - $2,000,000 = 157 properties
<> $2,100,000 - $3,000,000 = 51 properties
<> $3,100,000 - $5,000,000 = 54 properties
<> $5,100,000 – $30,000,000 = 35 properties

Only 18% of the inventory is above $2,000,000. That means the so-called lower end of the market is where the fat is. However, within that segment lies a misleading inflationary factor --- sellers who do not have to sell.

For a few years now we have been reading about how the real estate market has tanked in some areas of the country, falling into what many view as a fathomless abyss. The media has us believing this was the general condition everywhere. In an attempt to educate consumers, the National Association of Realtors® launched an educational campaign proclaiming ‘all real estate is local’. This is true, all real estate is local and in many parts of the country the market has been pretty much stable or a recovery is under way. But the message came too late, the die was cast, and for most of the country sales activity started to stall. Sellers started to panic and buyers delighted that the tide was turning in their favor. No longer would the buyers be at the mercy of a seller’s market. Even on Martha’s Vineyard buyers believed they finally had a chance to get a foothold on their dream Island.

Overall, however, property values still remain solid on Martha’s Vineyard. Yes, I am serious. If you are interested in real estate on Martha’s Vineyard, you should be paying attention to this local market and not be influenced by broad brush studies that are based on limited national metropolitan samplings. I don’t deny there are pockets across the country where prices have fallen 40% or more. These areas are not the norm. On Martha’s Vineyard, overall, the price drop has only gone down about 14% since 2006. For anyone who invested in Martha’s Vineyard real estate 5, 10, or 20 years ago, the good news is their investment has increased handsomely in value over that time period, even with the occasional bumps in the economic highway.

Exclusive Buyer Agents, such as SplitRock Real Estate, work very hard to educate consumers and create Power Buyers. I have a number of buyer/clients who have been working with me for 6 months, a year, even three years or more. They have a sincere desire to be here if they can only find the right property at the right price (Isn’t that typical of what motivates buying decisions?). Much to their chagrin they are discovering that prices on the Vineyard make no sense. Comparables are difficult to come up with, and ultimately the buying decision has to be an emotional decision. For those who are thinking long term and understand the fundamentals of real estate investment, the fact that prices overall have not gone down much should be a reassuring factor that lends more confidence to a buying decision. For others, if they cannot afford to make the investment now they will regrettably join the ranks of the would-have, should-have, could-have buyers.

So what is wrong with the Martha’s Vineyard real estate market? Buyers who enter the Martha’s Vineyard real estate market, regardless of whether it is an up or a down market are confused and scared. They do not want to make a mistake or appear foolish. There are many sellers who are sincerely motivated and will actively compete, engage and negotiate with buyers to sell their properties in this market. I am not including what we call distress sales, i.e. short sales, foreclosures and bank owned properties (aka REO’s). The problem lies with the ‘ego seller’ who lists their property for sale, but really does not care if they sell now or two years from now. They are not willing to listen to the market (IE their seller agents), and insist on holding a hard line because they think their properties are special, and their posture is "I don't have to sell". I call this the ‘goose that laid the golden egg’ mentality. Sellers who are not competitive are like buyers who are not qualified; they are wasting everyone’s time and money. If you are a serious seller, please don’t be offended by an offer you receive. Be willing to graciously engage with a meaningful counter offer. Properly educating buyers is a difficult, time-consuming process. When they get to a point where they are comfortable making a reasonable offer, if they are coldly rejected by a seller, it sets the whole process back considerably. If you recall the moral of Aesop’s fable, he who wants too much loses everything. In this case it is the entire Vineyard real estate market that is losing.

As average buyers watch the market week after week, the inventory continues to grow. Some buyers hold out, sitting on the sidelines, as they keep hoping those overpriced properties will come down in price. They resist making a buying decision waiting for sellers to cave in. The result is a slow market with minimal inventory absorption. When the inventory was limited, the demand was greater and the market moved briskly. If this market is going to get back in stride, it is my opinion that sellers, who don’t need to sell, should remove their properties from the current inventory. If sellers don’t like where the market is today and they are not willing to be competitive and engage in negotiations, they should wait and relist their properties when happy days are here again. And surely, this too shall pass and happy days will return.

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Saturday, March 08, 2008

1031 Exchanges and Vacation Homes actual text for IRS Rev. Proc. 2008-16

IRS Rev. Proc. 2008-16 on Safe Harbor for Like-Kind Exchange of Dwelling Unit

IRC Section 1031 IRC - Section 280A Document Date: February 15, 2008

This revenue procedure is scheduled to be published in Internal Revenue Bulletin 2008-10, dated March 10, 2008.

Part III

Administrative, Procedural, and Miscellaneous

26 CFR 601.105: Examination of returns and claims for refund, credit, or abatement; determination of correct tax liability.

(Also Part 1, §§280A , 1031).

Rev. Proc. 2008-16

This revenue procedure provides a safe harbor under which the Internal Revenue Service (the "Service") will not challenge whether a dwelling unit qualifies as property held for productive use in a trade or business or for investment for purposes of § 1031 of the Internal Revenue Code.

.01 Section 1031(a) provides that no gain or loss is recognized on the exchange of property held for productive use in a trade or business or for investment (relinquished property) if the property is exchanged solely for property of like kind that is to be held either for productive use in a trade or business or for investment (replacement property). Under § 1.1031(a)-(1)(a)(1) of the Income Tax Regulations, property held for productive use in a trade or business may be exchanged for property held for investment, and property held for investment may be exchanged for property held for productive use in a trade or business.

.02 Rev. Rul. 59-229, 1959-2 C.B. 180, concludes that gain or loss from an exchange of personal residences may not be deferred under § 1031 because the residences are not property held for productive use in a trade or business or for investment.

.03 Section 2.05 of Rev. Proc. 2005-14, 2005-1 C.B. 528, states that § 1031 does not apply to property that is used solely as a personal residence.

.04 In Moore v. Commissioner, T.C. Memo. 2007-134, the taxpayers exchanged one lakeside vacation home for another. Neither home was ever rented. Both were used by the taxpayers only for personal purposes. The taxpayers claimed that the exchange of the homes was a like-kind exchange under § 1031 because the properties were expected to appreciate in value and thus were held for investment. The Tax Court held, however, that the properties were held for personal use and that the "mere hope or expectation that property may be sold at a gain cannot establish an investment intent if the taxpayer uses the property as a residence."

.05 In Starker v. United States, 602 F.2d 1341, 1350 (9th Cir. 1979), the Ninth Circuit held that a personal residence of a taxpayer was not eligible for exchange under § 1031, explaining that "[it] has long been the rule that use of property solely as a personal residence is antithetical to its being held for investment."

.06 The Service recognizes that many taxpayers hold dwelling units primarily for the production of current rental income, but also use the properties occasionally for personal purposes. In the interest of sound tax administration, this revenue procedure provides taxpayers with a safe harbor under which a dwelling unit will qualify as property held for productive use in a trade or business or for investment under § 1031 even though a taxpayer occasionally uses the dwelling unit for personal purposes.

.01 In general. This revenue procedure applies to a dwelling unit, as defined in section 3.02 of this revenue procedure, that meets the qualifying use standards in section 4.02 of this revenue procedure.

.02 Dwelling unit. For purposes of this revenue procedure, a dwelling unit is real property improved with a house, apartment, condominium, or similar improvement that provides basic living accommodations including sleeping space, bathroom and cooking facilities.

.01 In general. The Service will not challenge whether a dwelling unit as defined in section 3.02 of this revenue procedure qualifies under § 1031 as property held for productive use in a trade or business or for investment if the qualifying use standards in section 4.02 of this revenue procedure are met for the dwelling unit.

.02 Qualifying use standards.

(1) Relinquished property. A dwelling unit that a taxpayer intends to be relinquished property in a §1031 exchange qualifies as property held for productive use in a trade or business or for investment if:
(a) The dwelling unit is owned by the taxpayer for at least 24 months immediately before the exchange (the "qualifying use period"); and

(b) Within the qualifying use period, in each of the two 12-month periods immediately preceding the exchange,

(i) The taxpayer rents the dwelling unit to another person or persons at a fair rental for 14 days or more, and

(ii) The period of the taxpayer's personal use of the dwelling unit does not exceed the greater of 14 days or 10 percent of the number of days during the 12-month period that the dwelling unit is rented at a fair rental.

For this purpose, the first 12-month period immediately preceding the exchange ends on the day before the exchange takes place (and begins 12 months prior to that day) and the second 12-month period ends on the day before the first 12-month period begins (and begins 12 months prior to that day).

(2) Replacement property. A dwelling unit that a taxpayer intends to be replacement property in a §1031 exchange qualifies as property held for productive use in a trade or business or for investment if:

(a) The dwelling unit is owned by the taxpayer for at least 24 months immediately after the exchange (the "qualifying use period"); and

(b) Within the qualifying use period, in each of the two 12-month periods immediately after the exchange,

(i) The taxpayer rents the dwelling unit to another person or persons at a fair rental for 14 days or more, and

(ii) The period of the taxpayer's personal use of the dwelling unit does not exceed the greater of 14 days or 10 percent of the number of days during the 12-month period that the dwelling unit is rented at a fair rental.

For this purpose, the first 12-month period immediately after the exchange begins on the day after the exchange takes place and the second 12-month period begins on the day after the first 12-month period ends.

.03 Personal use. For purposes of this revenue procedure, personal use of a dwelling unit occurs on any day on which a taxpayer is deemed to have used the dwelling unit for personal purposes under § 280A(d)(2) (taking into account § 280A(d)(3) but not § 280A(d)(4)).

.04 Fair rental. For purposes of this revenue procedure, whether a dwelling unit is rented at a fair rental is determined based on all of the facts and circumstances that exist when the rental agreement is entered into. All rights and obligations of the parties to the rental agreement are taken into account.

.05 Special rule for replacement property. If a taxpayer files a federal income tax return and reports a transaction as an exchange under § 1031, based on the expectation that a dwelling unit will meet the qualifying use standards in section 4.02(2) of this revenue procedure for replacement property, and subsequently determines that the dwelling unit does not meet the qualifying use standards, the taxpayer, if necessary, should file an amended return and not report the transaction as an exchange under § 1031.

.06 Limited application of safe harbor. The safe harbor provided in this revenue procedure applies only to the determination of whether a dwelling unit qualifies as property held for productive use in a trade or business or for investment under § 1031. A taxpayer utilizing the safe harbor in this revenue procedure also must satisfy all other requirements for a like-kind exchange under § 1031 and the regulations thereunder.

This revenue procedure is effective for exchanges of dwelling units occurring on or after March 10, 2008. No inference is intended with respect to the federal income tax treatment of exchanges of dwelling units occurring prior to the effective date of this revenue procedure.

The principal author of this revenue procedure is J. Peter Baumgarten of the Office of Associate Chief Counsel (Income Tax & Accounting). For further information regarding this revenue procedure contact Mr. Baumgarten at (202) 622-4920 (not a toll free call).

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Sunday, February 03, 2008

Martha’s Vineyard Real Estate – Should You Be In The Market Now?

There are too many people who should not be in the real estate market right now, both buyers and sellers. They’re not serious, they are time wasters, and to me real estate is not a game.

If I were a seller’s agent, and I am not, and a home owner came to me asking me to list his property at a certain price that was out of line with my market research, and saying “let’s just try it for a while at this price”, I would say no thank you. Perhaps that seller is unable to sell his property at fair market value because he owes too much, and is upside down --- loan vs. current market. Perhaps that seller does not have to sell, but is just testing the waters or derives some pleasure at seeing his property advertised at a big number. It is sellers like this and the resulting skewed values and distorted inventory that create the negative public opinion and add to buyer’s misperceived impression of the market.

If a buyer came to me, and they do, saying they want to “steal a property”, I say no thank you. Pricing property is analogous to water seeking its own level. If you price a property too high, it will languish on the market until the price comes in line with the market. Across the country, 36% of all properties sold for list price or higher. Only 12% of all properties nationally sold for 90% or less than asking price. What this means is buyers continue to wait until properties are priced correctly. If you recognize that a property is priced correctly, you need to bid accordingly because properties that are priced correctly will normally sell quickly to a savvy buyer, and there may be more than one savvy buyer making a run on a property at the same time. Buyers must realize right now prices are good, interest rates are excellent and anyone with cash or excellent credit has power if they use it wisely in their negotiation. I’ve seen this too many times. Buyers who are eager and ready to get into the market, but continue to sit on the sidelines waiting for the ‘go signal’ from on high that prices have bottomed out are destined to join the ‘would have … should have’ club. You know who I am talking about, those people who painfully recount that they could have bought that property for ….

In the investment game, if you think you are at the bottom, or at the top, it is too late --- you are already on the other side. Right now is a great time to approach the market because the fruit on the tree is abundant and ripe. I don’t blame anyone for having doubts and fears; after all, the news these days is mostly negative and full of fear. I love what Louis Rukeyser once said about investing, no matter what you do, it is going to be wrong so do something, because the worst thing is to do nothing.

We need to remember real estate is cyclical and this too shall pass. Historically, the down-markets normally last two to three years and the up-markets last from seven to ten years. I believe we are walking in the valley right now, but we just don’t know it. It is going to be a long slow trek through the valley and we may not reach the mountain until the end of 2008, or the beginning of 2009, but we are on the march. One thing is for sure, real estate values overall continue to go up. Real estate is the one sure investment that always appreciates over time.

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

What is it going to take to get the Martha’s Vineyard real estate market rolling again?

There is one thing for sure, wishful thinking is not working. Neither is the constant stream of anemic price reductions week after week. How about those incentives and broker bonuses? You know what I'm talking about; the three-year old Range Rover in the driveway, the 24' sailboat, a 60" LCD TV, seller paid closing costs, seller paid Land Bank fee, first payment in six months, a vacation in the Bahamas or $50,000 to the agent that brings the buyer. None of that is working, and any additional compensation offered to an agent that brings the buyer should be considered a conflict of interest and bribery.

So what is working, and how is it working? Home "Staging" is working to some degree, but once buyers wise up to the fact that this kind of eye candy emotional sizzle is costing them thousands of dollars more in the price for the home, they will stop falling for it and start backing away from homes that look just too pretty. They will wonder what lies beneath the dining room table that is set for a 5-course formal dinner party seating twelve.

In an article written for Bloomberg News, John F. Wasik says, "Buyers just want price," he quotes one real-estate attorney/broker/consultant based in Stuart, Fla., as saying. "Buyers have become more educated and they can easily cut through the fluffy incentives". Hmmm. I don't think we're there yet. Everyone loves romance and people shopping for a home on Martha's Vineyard want to fall in love. This market is like going to Las Vegas for the first time and getting lost in one of the Casinos. Know the feeling?

What is the first question buyers ask? "How long has the house been on the market?" This has almost become a joke among real estate professionals, but buyers ask the question because it is commonly assumed that the longer a property has been on the market the weaker the seller's resolve to hold firm on price. You see, overpriced listings that languish on the market reduce the seller's negotiating ability as time diminishes their power. Once a listing has gone unsold, even if they take it off the market for a while or remove it and relist it with another agency, the information is in the public domain. There are definitely exceptions; EG: the seller doesn't have to sell, or the seller just likes to see their property advertized at some inflated price.

I think it is obvious that if a seller is serious --- I am NOT talking about desperate; homes priced to sell will sell. That means being ahead of the market instead of chasing the market. A good deal starts to get noticed if it is at least 10% below its competition. But when you see a good deal, do you think you are the only one who sees that good deal? Heck no, and usually you end up competing with other consumers who want what you want. What that can do is create a bidding war, and that is exactly what the seller wants --- or should want. A bidding war is probably the best and truest way to establish market value. I hate bidding wars, and right now I don't have to worry about it because sellers on Martha's Vineyard are following the same bloodletting technique; they all price high and week after week pull a few thousand dollars out of their last price. My clients feel like they are standing around the markdown sale table at Macy's waiting for the 70% off sign to go up.

There is a lot of misleading statistical information out there right now. Many agents talk about price-to-price ratio. In the recent 2007 NAR Report on Buyers and Sellers it states that "sellers sold their homes for 97% of list price." Does this mean 97% of the original listing price or 97% of the current listing price? The property could have been on the market for a year and transitioned through a half-dozen price reductions before it finally sold.

To sellers my advice is to listen to your listing broker when they give you an 'honest' price recommendation. In this market, if you interview several brokers, hire the broker who gives you the lowest price recommendation because they are probably the one telling you the truth. Many times a broker will agree to a listing contract with a seller because they are thinking, "If I don't take it, my competitor will and I will lose it." They know full well the property will never sell at the listing price. They are banking on the seller eventually coming to their senses and seeing the light. The conversation goes like this. "Mr. Seller, it has been three weeks since we listed your property and we have had no interest, so it is time to reduce the price." By then it is too late and that conversation will most certainly be had again --- and again.

To my buyer clients I always say if you like a property, pay little attention to the asking price and don't be afraid to make a "Bold Offer". By this I mean make an intelligent well thought-out and thoroughly researched offer. I make it perfectly clear on my website > ATTENTION SELLERS: A Low Offer Today, May be a High Offer in 60 Days .

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Friday, September 21, 2007

What Consumers Want On A Real Estate Website

What information do most consumers want to know about when visiting a real estate website?

According to a survey released by the exclusive Buyer agency firm Accent Realty Group, here are the topics most searched by consumers:
1) 85.7% wanted the ability to search all homes in the area.
2) 42.9% said they wanted to know about local schools.
3) 57.1% said they wanted to know about local crime rates.
4) 28.6% said they wanted to know about tax rates.

The survey also went on to add the fact that consumers were still unfamiliar and confused about the terms “Dual Agency” and “Facilitator”.

I spent a lot of time personally creating my website and I go into great detail to educate consumers about the different types of Agency, but I still find about 50% of the potential buyers I speak with are confused or just plain suspicious. I don’t blame them because the real estate community is still playing a shell game and trying to be all things to all people. I say it can’t be done.

On my website I use the analogy of two sports teams sharing the same locker room, and the same coach. What kind of game do you think they are going to be playing? In an NAR sanctioned publication titled Agency – Choices, Challenges & Opportunities (Agent’s Guide), the definition of an EXCLUSIVE Buyer Agency reads as follows: “The practice of representing only buyers and never sellers in a transaction. The company never lists a sellers’ property and thus never has a seller as a client. Agents never accept subagency that is offered to a seller’s agent.” (Note: In Massachusetts, practically all agencies no longer offer compensation to subagents because of inherent liability.)

As if it is not hard enough for the public to understand terms like “Dual Agency”, “Designated Agency”, “Transaction Agency” or “Facilitator”, “Single Agency”, and “Buyer Agency -- with consent to Dual Agency”, many brokers are still misusing the term EXCLUSIVE in order to capture a buyer. They offer EXCLUSIVE Buyer Agency with consent to Dual Agency”. That is like saying, I’ll be married to you, but if I see someone I want to fool around with, I’ll do it. I don’t know about you, but my wife would have none of that and I am perfectly happy being her EXCLUSIVE husband. Call me what ever you like, but I prefer to keep my life simple stupid, and be respectful of consumer intelligence. I will never share the locker room with another team.

In conclusion, allow me to direct you to a wonderful article I just read and please call me if you still don’t “get it”. I create power buyers!

Follow this link to read > What Buyers Do Wrong

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Monday, July 23, 2007

I'm A Real Estate Buyer's Agent, And I Love What I Do.

I do not post editorials to my Blog unless I am the author, or collaborating with a colleague. However, this account of a personal real estate interaction written by a gentleman I know is so hilarious and poignant, I cannot resist sharing it.

Steve and his wife, having returned from a Sunday tour of open houses, were reflecting back on the events of the day and here is his impression of the experience.

A Buyer's Plea for Some Respect

By Steve Burnett © 2007
Reprinted by permission

Just because I don't happen to have my agent with me on this visit, doesn't mean I don't have one. Without an agent with me, we both know that your first question is likely to be, "are you working with somebody?" This really means you're trying to find out if there's any chance you can function as a dual agent and double your percentage. Or, maybe that same question is your way of determining if I'm really a serious buyer or just one of the neighbors from down the block. See those MLS sheets and Google maps in my hand? I'm not a neighbor from down the block. I'm looking to buy something. You'll see that in my eyes once you stop worrying about "establishing a dialog" or "getting to know your buyer" or when you stop asking yourself, "How can I tuck in an extra 2.5 points on this deal?"

Aside from pointing out something notable or unusual, I really don't need you to announce, "...and this is the hall bathroom..." as we tour the house. I know what bathrooms and bedrooms and kitchens look like already, thank you. Perhaps you're used to dealing in twenty-room mansions where the function or location of each room might have to be explained, but I'm just a regular guy looking for your average 3/2 suburban rancher. It's not likely I'm going to get lost or confused about what a particular room is, so save your chatter until you have something really informative to tell me.

In fact, hold your chatter, period. Unbeknownst to you, my wife and I have just flipped a coin in the car outside to determine which one of us has to take the chore of talking to you and answering all your questions so the other one of us actually gets to look at the place in a somewhat uninterrupted manner.

If you think you're going to entice me into making an offer by claiming that you have other offers coming in soon, or telling me how many other folks have seen your open house today, expect me to turn on my heel and exit your open house. Attempting to create the appearance of scarcity is so 2004. There's no point in me getting into a bidding war, real or imagined. If you don't believe that, please revisit the months-of-supply and DOM numbers for your area. Hint: I've seen those numbers!

I know what new paint looks like, and I know what old paint looks like. It's not super important for you to point out the difference, since $50 bucks at Home Depot, a few beers, and a few hours on a Saturday are all that are required for me to solve any paint issues in a room. I'd rather you let me decide what the value of such "upgrades" are. Hint: You are not going to get a few extra grand in value just because the seller took $50 bucks, a few beers, and an afternoon to slap some trendy color on the walls. Same story applies with crown molding and wainscoting. Forget what you and your sellers have seen on HGTV; you are not going to get a 10X return-on-investment for a few hundred bucks worth of DIY projects. If the basic value of the house in not there due to the number of rooms, location, or dollars per square foot, no amount of superficial "upgrades" are going to change that basic value. Conversely, if the basic value is there, I'm very prone to overlooking lime green walls, chipped tile, and a myriad of cosmetic issues.

The whole staging thing is getting really old. Does the house you live in have strategically placed bottle of wine with a pair of glasses on the patio table every night of the week? My current house doesn't, I can assure you that the only time there's a big bowl of fresh-cut flowers on the kitchen table is on Valentine's Day, or when I've made my wife mad. Normal people live in homes where the coffee table has a bunch of remotes, chewed-up dog toys and six-month old magazines. A staged house always seems to have a book of Tuscan sunsets, a bowl of teal-colored marbles, and nothing else on that coffee table. Sure, ask the sellers to tidy up a bit. But don't stage the place to the point where it's a cliché, or to a point where it's not even plausible that actual people might live in the house. Really, I'm trying to look through all the fruit bowls, cute soap bars, and other doo-dads you've carefully placed. It insults my intelligence that you think crap like that might make me want a particular property more than what I would have without the staging. In spite of what you have heard, a vacant house with no furnishings whatsoever is fine.

You know all those apple pie-scented candles in your trunk you've been packing around for each open house you do? Dump them. Put them in your own garage for the next power outage. Give them to some homeless. Do anything but use them to give potential open houses that "home" feeling. Virtually every single one of your competitors is already trying the same idea. Unless your property has dead animals underneath the floor boards, or had the living room used as an indoor kennel, there's really no scent that you can add that is going to want to make me want to buy something I wouldn't otherwise. Back to the intelligence thing: Do you honestly believe that people make large, 30-year financial commitments because they caught a whiff of punkin' pie? Don't even get me started on chocolate chip cookies or popcorn. Yes, I've read the studies about how the rational mind can be strongly influenced by scents. When you try that play, all I really smell is your desperation.

Basic literacy: FYI, the windows that you're trying to tell me about are spelled: "dual pane", not "duel pain" or duel pane". I only bring this up because I've really seen these spelling variants in many listings. Same issue with !!! $ALL CAPS DESCRIPTION$ !!!! and TXT THT LKS LK A 14YO GRL might be sending me a text message. I expect to see that kind of writing for Beanie Babies on eBay, not on a $500,000 home listing. Again, it's a mistake for you to think I might be dumb enough to give your listing any more than the usual amount of attention due to the number of exclamation points. Fact is, I'm less likely to look at such a listing because your writing skills look like you dropped out of high school and I'm not likely to trust you with such an important purchase.

It's not 2005 anymore, and buyers like me are getting back to pure fundamentals: Dollars per square foot, and location. Stuff you can't change with new paint or by "spicing up" your listing description. Remember, I'm looking at buying in a down market and maybe having to sit through a few years of little or no appreciation. You can help me by explaining how the fundamentals of your property might work for me. You can save us both some grief if you can help your seller to understand that it's not 2005 and that the next buyer is not likely going to enjoy a 20% per year price appreciation and the price should be set accordingly. Sorry, it's a new market now.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Real Estate Shell Game

By Peter C. Fyler with editorial input from Jon Boyd, 2007 President, National Association of Exclusive Buyer’s Agents
© 2007 SplitRock Real Estate, LLC

I’m an exclusive buyer agent on Martha’s Vineyard and my job is representing buyers; that’s it plain and simple. I have no allegiance or responsibility to sellers beyond the rules of courtesy and common decency set forth in my REALTOR® and NAEBA Association Code of Ethics.

You’re a Buyer looking for your dream home, and if you do what most buyers do today, you start looking for that dream home on the Internet. You may go from one real estate company’s website to another plowing through their listings looking for that perfect property. You must be aware the listing company and all its agents represent the seller, not you. With that said, let’s take a look at the real estate shell game.

Shell #1 - Loss Leader: You see what you think is your dream home listed by company A. Excitedly, you call company A and you ask the listing agent answering the phone about the property you saw on their website. You are told apologetically, that it’s under contract to be sold or already SOLD! The agent says they were about to change the status or remove it from the website, and then they immediately suggest other properties in their inventory. Most likely this was not an accident or oversight on the part of the real estate company. In general commerce, they call this kind of advertising ‘loss leader’ or ‘bait and switch’.

Our Martha’s Vineyard Listing Information Network (LINK) provides a system of codes designed to keep information current, but LINK cannot dictate behavior to its subscribers. Not all real estate agencies ignore their responsibility to keep information current, yet many excuse themselves saying they will not change the status until the last contingency is met or even until the deed is signed. Probably more than 95% of the transactions here on Martha’s Vineyard go to record. Another excuse is to say it’s just business in a competitive market; it makes the phone ring, and perhaps the buyer could be steered to another property. Who does that benefit? It benefits the real estate company and the sellers of those properties still languishing in the unsold inventory. It does not benefit buyers like you and it frustrates buyer agents like me.

Shell #2 - Show Me the Money: Another trick is for agents in traditional real estate companies to call themselves buyer agents. At best, they are Designated Buyer’s Agents, Dual Agents or Transactional Agents better known as Facilitators. Look at real estate websites and print advertising, what do you see? You see dozens of properties advertised for sale. All of these properties are supported by seller agency written contracts and an agency commitment to get the highest price and best terms for the seller. Furthermore, advertising is very costly and therefore another incentive to get as much for the seller’s property as possible. A true buyer’s agent is always a buyer’s agent and never switches roles; they only represent people, not property. Only Exclusive Buyer Agents exhibit advanced skills in property analysis, price evaluation and negotiation. There is one more trick I want you to know about.

Shell #3 - The Meat Grinder: While you are surfing the Internet looking for your dream home, most likely you have come across some intriguing and very slick real estate websites boasting to be your number one real estate resource. Many of these companies will not let you look for an agent or review properties for sale until you fill out a complete contact information form. Even then, you may have to wait for a response with the promise that you will be contacted by the best real estate agent in your area, a real estate agent that you did not personally choose. These are not real estate companies, they are advertising companies only interested in one thing --- making money. They may even send your contact information to several “best” agents. They don’t care who or what they represent. If a real estate agent can pay the price, and it’s a steep price, these companies will send them “leads”, or display listings for them, even if those listings don’t belong to the company advertising them.

If you have ever inquired about listings on one of these websites, you most likely realized the information was quite often inaccurate or obsolete. It is all about getting the leads. As I said before, these leads are expensive, so the agent subscriber will want to recapture their advertising expense, and you can bet that will be at your expense --- the BUYER.

Another unfortunate aspect of these lead generation services is the agents that buy your contact information are often the least experienced agents in the market. Some of the companies that do this type of pay-per-lead marketing are Connect2agent, Homegain, Neighborhoodscout, Realtyconnect and Servicemagic. Many of my seasoned colleagues who have tried these services will say you gain almost nothing for the money spent. Common sense should tell you the smartest way to find the best agent or properties in the area you are interested in, is to look for a company in that area.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

I've Seen It All On Martha's Vineyard

For as long as I can remember it has been a mystery to me how some home owners here on Martha's Vineyard decide to sell their family home, hire a seller's agent, agree to pay a fee and put their home on the market but never take the time to clean and fix up their home and property, not even just a little.

One would think a seller would at least fix that broken staircase to the second floor bedrooms so a prospective buyer would not have to use an outside staircase to get to the second floor living area. One would think the two Rottweilers running loose in the house would be sequestered outside when the seller's agent shows the property.

A prospective buyer coming into a house and contemplating living there needs to see through the distracting maze of stuff the home owner has accumulated over the last 30 years; they need to see themselves living in that home. They will see nothing if they are trying to dodge the growling dogs, making sure their child doesn't fall through a broken staircase, or navigate around dirty laundry strewn across the living room floor.

Staging and Feng Shui is all the buzz now, but for the most part we still ignore it on Martha's Vineyard. I guess you might say the pervasive attitude is “We’re Martha's Vineyard and we’re hot so deal with it!”

I belong to the National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (NAEBA) and below is an article being circulated throughout the media in this country. You may get a chuckle out of it, but more importantly, if you are a seller, pay attention and give your agent and my buyer clients a break. Remember, sellers want to sell, buyers want to buy and real estate agents want to make it happen.

Buyer Beware: Skeletons in the Closet
(and Aliens in the Basement)
ARLINGTON, Va., June 22 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- How much do you suppose a pile of crunchy dead bugs on the basement floor will affect the selling price of a $500,000 home? How about a life-size skeleton hanging in the closet, or an open coffin in the basement with a dummy vampire inside? Or an overly-ripe kitty litter box under the kitchen table?

The National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents (NAEBA) recently conducted an online survey of their members to rate the items they found most annoying when searching for a new home with buyers. Since these real estate companies are always looking out for the buyer's best interest they don't pull any punches. The results of the survey are revealing, surprising, and sometimes downright weird.

Here are the top five things exclusive buyer's agents find most annoying when previewing a home:

1. Broken door locks preventing access to the house.

2. Pet deposits in the back yard or dirty cat boxes.

3. Missing light bulbs in the basement.

4. Sellers that ask you to remove shoes and then have wet carpet or dirty

5. Having loose stairs on a stairway or missing banisters.

Other reported annoyances include:

6. Low hanging dining room light fixtures in a vacant home.

7. Closet doors that fall off or are not adjusted properly.

8. Going into a vacant home and hearing animals in the walls.

9. Halloween decorations that are left out.

10. Dangerous children's toys left out.

11. Dead cars in the driveway or yard.

12. Homes on large lots without a survey or description of the lot

13. Political signs.

14. Graffiti on a home for sale.

15. Dead birds or animals in or around the home.

It seems that many home sellers are not overly-endowed with common sense. Closet doors falling off? Dead animals in the front yard? The pitter-patter of mousy feet in the walls? Scary Halloween decorations all over the house? These should all be no-brainers. Sending buyers away disgusted or frightened out of their wits is probably not the best of business decisions. Neither is killing or maiming them with dangerous children's toys left as booby traps.

Jon Boyd, President of NAEBA, relates some of the unbelievable things he's encountered over the years when going through homes for sale. "Once I was previewing a fairly expensive home by myself. I go into the huge basement and I can't find the light switch. As I'm reaching around a corner I catch a light switch and turn it on. About 8 feet in front of me is a life-sized model of the ALIEN MONSTER LOOKING RIGHT AT ME! My heart starts beating again in a few minutes when I figure out what the stupid thing is, but whose idea was it to leave the thing there while the home is on the market?"

At another house Boyd almost became an unwitting participant in a Chaplinesque silent comedy. "I'm stepping into the basement the first time with buyers right behind me, again without good lighting. My foot hits something and when the light goes on I see I just barely missed stepping off the step onto a roller skate. I'm serious. Can you picture me flipping over onto my back like a cartoon character? If my foot had come down 2 inches to the left..."

Silliness aside, there is an important lesson here for home sellers. "In all these cases the buyer's attention is diverted from evaluating the home to something mildly disgusting or frustrating," says Boyd. "If sellers have a dead pigeon lying on the deck it will just help our buyers negotiate a better price because of less competition. But let's try to leave the skeletons and coffins for the Halloween party!"

The National Association of Exclusive Buyer Agents was founded in 1995 to help consumers become educated homebuyers. NAEBA is a nonprofit organization whose purpose is to be the "champions of real estate buyers' rights and representation." It has over 500 members nationwide. Starting in the mid- 1990s, savvy buyers wanted the benefits of a real estate representative working for their interests exclusively. They turned to EBAs, Exclusive Buyer Agents, to do the job. NAEBA is an industry group dedicated to supporting EBAs in serving clients to the best of their ability. NAEBA offers industry standard certifications, ongoing education, client referral service, technology and information sharing. The NAEBA Code of Ethics pledges undivided loyalty to real estate buyers only. More information about NAEBA can be found at

Web site:

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Friday, June 15, 2007

Buying A Home On Martha’s Vineyard Should Be Fun

House hunting on Martha’s Vineyard can be fun, and I make sure it is fun. However, I find many buyers new to the market get caught up in things that are irrelevant while failing to consider what’s really important. They may base their decision on a Japanese Maple tree in the front yard, the green granite counter tops in the kitchen, or the color of the carpeting in the living room. I believe it is my responsibility as an exclusive buyer representative to keep my buyer-clients focused on the big picture, even though some of that may be more sobering than joyful. Please read this report by on Four Strategies to Make House Hunting Easier

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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Is Your Property Eligible for a §1031 Tax Deferred Exchange?

Since Martha’s Vineyard is a vacation community, many properties are purchased for investment purposes and not as primary residences. Therefore the Section 1031 Tax Deferred Exchange option (also called Starker exchange) is especially intriguing and ideal for many investors.

Many media articles, dozens of websites and some real estate agents are quick to pontificate offering themselves up as §1031experts, but not giving a clear or complete picture of the §1031 exchange process. It seems many taxpayers believe they can exchange a vacation home at any time and that’s just not the case” says Tom Oldfield, attorney and partner in Olympic Exchange Accommodators based in Washington state.

I believe the process is too dicey and very complicated. It is constantly changing and has many sensitive factors and critical pitfalls that can make or break a deal. As a real estate broker and exclusive buyer agent, my duty is as a facilitator to my principal; I am not an accountant or tax advisor, attorney or qualified intermediary (QI). I have relationships with several good QI’s and will refer and assist anyone interested in pursuing a §1031 exchange. According to David Greenberger, an attorney and California licensed QI, here are some questions a taxpayer should be asked when contemplating the purchase of an investment property:
· Are you considering selling or buying any property for investment or business purposes?
· Are you considering putting any of your equity from one property into another?
· Are you considering selling any property and buying any other property within 6 months of each other?
· Can I put you in touch with an accommodator who can give you basic information and guide you through your particular facts and situation?
· Do you need further advice or information from a tax advisor?
· Have you got a clear plan for your real estate?
· Should you be considering new categories of real estate or regions for your replacement properties?
· Should you start looking for replacement properties now so that you give yourself more time than the prescribed 6 months from close of the relinquished property?
· Are you aware your deposit for the replacement property may come from the exchange account you set up once you have sold your first property in the exchange?
· Should I follow up with you once you have closed on your replacement property to track performance and help you decide whether you might want to enter into another exchange on additional properties you may own or to discuss a reverse exchange when new properties become available?

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Monday, April 23, 2007

All Real Estate Is Local, but that has not been the perception?

In David Lereah’s new book, “All Real Estate Is Local”, he references the investment mistakes his Grandpa made by listening to the national news instead of paying attention to ”local influences and activity” He goes on to say, “Whatever the national trends are with regard to real estate – whether they are booming or busting – what really matters is what the market conditions are in your region, town, or neighborhood.” David Lereah is Senior Vice President and Chief Economist of the National Association of Realtors® (NAR).

Starting in 2001 real estate speculation began picking up steam in certain areas of the country that were growing in popularity. These areas were primarily coastal cities on the east and west coast. It would be five years before this trend would run its course. Investors were quick to jump on board with the hope of making a quick buck -- and they did. Properties were selling before a shovel touched dirt or a hammer struck a nail. We saw this in the 80’s here on Martha’s Vineyard when the construction and housing market was out of control, but we learned from that bad experience and won’t let it happen again.

When the press started reporting the news that the Boom was over, they did so by painting a national picture of doom and gloom with a broad brush. We all listened to the reports. Prospective buyers relished the thought of getting a good deal, “a steal”, and regaining control of what had been a so-called seller’s market that had all but shut out everyone except the well-healed from the Vineyard real estate market. Sellers, on the other hand, started to panic but refused to give up their position. They fervently resisted lowering what, in most cases, were overly inflated prices based upon subjective personal opinions instead of factual market price analysis provided by seller agents.

We entered a buyer-seller standoff period where nothing was happening, except at the very top of the market. But even there activity slowed down and sales were few and far between. No one wants to overspend and appear foolish regardless of how much they are worth. The wave of panic continued to build while rolling from coast to coast, and everyone was talking about a “buyer’s market” whether the perception was true or not.

On the Vineyard, sellers continued throwing chum at the market week after week in the form of insignificant price reductions. So like any good bargain shopper, buyers continued to wait, wondering how low the market would go. Personally, from the beginning I saw this as an opportunity for a leveling of the market and never believed the negative hype as it pertained to Martha’s Vineyard. Water seeks its own level and it would just be a matter of time, I thought, before we reached that point.

All of a sudden, but not by surprise, there was a new specter looming on the horizon. Was the housing bubble about to burst? Buyers had been led to believe there was no end in sight for the hot market and prices would just continue climbing. They were drawn into a false sense of security and anticipation of assumed future gains. Greed and some very creative financing products also encouraged buyers to overextend themselves by committing to attractive short-term, low adjustable interest rate loans. This enabled them to get into the market with little or no money down. But in some areas of the country the market suddenly came to a halt and prices started to decline. Frantic buyers not wanting to lose money immediately started canceling new home sales contracts and in many cases forfeiting substantial deposits.

With prices now plummeting by double digit percentages in many popular cities, and adjustable mortgage rates going up as much as double at the first reset, many new home owners found it easier to simply walk away from their homes purchased with up to 100% financed loans they could no longer afford. This was the case in cities like Boston, Cape Cod, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Los Angeles and Ft. Lauderdale where there had been overly zealous growth, but it was not that way throughout the entire country.

On Martha’s Vineyard the rate of appreciation was above average but not even half of what it was in the 1980’s. There were only a handful of speculators here that might have been in jeopardy. The Vineyard has always been a pricey market and that is not by accident. People who “get the Vineyard” are passionate about wanting to live here and make emotional decisions; quite often paying a premium to be part of the unique Vineyard lifestyle.

It was not only the home buyer who was affected by the slowdown in the market. Existing home owners who were courted and vigorously encouraged to take equity out of their existing homes for that dream vacation to Hawaii or that slick new Escalade were finding themselves in an unexpected upside-down or negative amortization position. The news of a threatened foreclosure glut loomed heavily on the horizon --- but once again we should have remembered --- real estate is local.

When a homeowner cannot maintain their mortgage or sell their home to save themselves, the end result is usually foreclosure and over a million home owners in the US are facing that end today. The foreclosure process begins when a borrower is over 30 days late with a mortgage payment. The lender will usually send a letter of notice to the borrower along with notification to the state’s Land Court notifying them of an action to foreclose. This does not imply a fait accompli, as most borrowers are able to work out the loan with the lender before they lose their homes. With prices continuing to decline in some areas, options have become more limited. However, in Massachusetts, the number of foreclosures is not even close to what it was in 1992. Government leaders are now calling for state and federal assistance to subsidize aide to home owners threatened with foreclosure.

Although Martha’s Vineyard is a wonderful and very special place, like all good things, greed can play a major part in pushing the envelope. We experienced a period for many years where everyone thought they had the goose that laid the golden egg. Many properties came on the market for ridiculous prices, both at the very top and at the very bottom of the market. Still, we relied upon the market to have the last word, but the astounding reality was that there was always someone who would pay the price. Today this is changing to a great extent not only because of the perception of a more level playing field or buyer’s market, but also because buyers are choosing to have their own agency representation.

So where are we today? I believe we are at a tipping point in the Martha’s Vineyard real estate market, but it will not be without a little more pain. One of my pet peeves is there are too many substandard, poorly maintained buildings of no important historic significance for sale here that have outlived their economic and functional usefulness. There is an old real estate expression, “underneath it all is the land”, and in many cases that is where the value is --- not what sits on the land. I maintain that many of the 40, 50 and 70 year old structures should be removed and replaced with more attractive energy efficient “Green” construction. Sellers have to realize they can no longer expect to get $400,000 to $500,000 for a property with a dilapidated house or unheated shack, when the value of the land is almost half of that selling price. Buyers need to realize they are not going to be able to “steal” properties. They must have confidence that if they pay a fair price for a property, they will have a solid investment that will appreciate in time, but not overnight.

We have to come to the realization on Martha’s Vineyard that this is not a buyer’s market, but an opportunity for a balanced market. A market where properties are priced fairly and sellers have realistic expectations. However, the lower to middle-end of the market is distorted because we still have a number of sellers who are not realistic or serious about selling their properties; they’re just fishing. Their perception of what their property is worth, albeit uninformed or ill-advised, overrides the facts. There are three phrases I constantly hear that always make me smile: “The seller is motivated”; “The seller doesn’t have to sell”, and “The price is negotiable”. What the heck does all that mean? Does it mean the motivated seller will accept well below market value or the non-motivated seller is firm on the price or will only accept above market value? Does anyone in the market today assume that prices are not negotiable?

The pool of qualified pre-approved buyers at the lower end or entry level of the Martha’s Vineyard real estate market is drying up. Lenders are adopting much stricter guidelines for buyers with limited resources and marginal credit. If you were pre-approved for a loan last year you may not be eligible for that same amount today. A larger down payment may be required and you will most likely not get a loan approval without verifying your income. If you are contemplating a purchase this year, save yourself disappointment and wasted time for everyone by going to a lender and getting pre-approved for a mortgage. Believe me, you are better off knowing your pocketbook will match your expectations. Negotiations are difficult enough today and being pre-approved will strengthen your bargaining position.

I’m the owner of SplitRock Real Estate, an EXCLUSIVE BUYER AGENCY and to paraphrase a statement from a REALTOR® sponsored national ad campaign, real estate is my life. I know my business; I study it and I’m passionate about it. My perspective is unique because I view the market from the buyer’s vantage point, and my goal is always to arrive at a fair deal. I will do my best to protect my buyer clients and will look after their best interests. My task is to educate and counsel my buyer clients so they can make informed decisions they will be comfortable with. I encourage you to begin or continue your real estate education at .

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Edgartown Adopts Strict BOH Regulations in hopes of Protecting Sengekontacket Pond

On March 7th, I commented on this article.
Click here to follow link > Septic Ban Points to Pond Protection

I spoke with Matt Poole the day before the Board of Health meeting regarding certain concerns I had about the proposed new health regulations governing Ocean Heights and Arbutus Park. Matt was actually working on completing the draft for the new regulation when I interrupted him. I told him I felt this could present a real hardship to current property owners who may not be able to afford the cost of possible mandatory waste water upgrades as outlined by the new regulation. Those with vacant lots may no longer be able to afford construction costs on their lots with the added expense of new utility systems. Matt said, in so many words, anyone who owns or purchases property in these areas should be able to afford the hookups. He may be right because there have been some pretty impressive houses going up in these communities lately.

Ultimately, this will be a good thing but I think it will be very interesting to see how the new regulations create a paradigm shift in Ocean Heights and Arbutus Park. I agree installing enhanced systems with the thought of evading the new hookup and as a permanent solution would be ill-advised because I believe the enhanced systems will have to be abandoned eventually. In my opinion enhanced systems are not attractive looking and I think they’re a band-aid for what has been and is increasingly becoming more and more a very serious problem -- the pollution of Sengekontacket Pond.

I think it’s unfortunate that Edgartown does not focus more on existing problems in developed neighborhoods before it allows major new construction projects in equally fragile areas like the Edgartown Great Pond. We need to control and limit density here, not increase it. This Island is already choking; we don’t want it to lose its vital signs.
Click here to follow link > Strict Regulations to Protect Sengekontacket Pond

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Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Whether you are Buying or Selling, Owning Real Estate can save you Big Money on your Taxes

A new book “Real Estate Tax Secrets of the Rich” written by Sandy Botkin, CPA, Esq, an IRS insider, reveals the tax strategies you can use to increase your ROIs by as much as 20 percent-whether you're a home owner or a real estate investor. This accessible guide demystifies real estate taxes and shows how to achieve maximum benefit when buying, owning, selling, managing, repairing, and investing in properties.
• Features numerous forms, charts, sample documents, and other valuable tax-saving tools
• Gives you the basics on real estate taxes and shows how to take full advantage of tax loopholes

Taken from the Back Cover…
When it comes to building wealth through real estate, the rich have one important secret: SLASH YOUR TAXES
It's simple: Less tax means more money in your pocket, and more return on your investments. Real Estate Tax Secrets of the Rich, written by a longtime tax expert and IRS consultant, shows you how to use your home and investment properties as money-saving and income-generating tax shelters.
Organized in easy to understand, bite size chapters that clearly explain the strategies, this book also includes charts and flow charts for ease of understanding. Each tip in this book includes a notation from the IRS tax code, showing exactly why it works - and how it's totally, 100 percent legal.
• Pocket thousands of extra dollars when buying and selling your primary home or investment property
• Use new mortgage and tax rules to your advantage
• Make targeted repairs and improvements on your home designed to boost tax deductions
• Protect and reduce your home's “tax basis” to maximize profit
• Make yourself bullet proof from any IRS audit

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