What Is CodeNEXT?

Have you heard of CodeNEXT yet?  If not, this is a topic that could have an impact on the real estate market and you will want to gain knowledge on the topic.  CodeNEXT is the new City of Austin plan to update the current Land Development Code.  The land code consists of how a piece of land can be used, including what can be built, where it can be built and how improvements can or cannot be built in the city.  Mayor Steve Adler says “The CodeNEXT process will help us manage our explosive growth while preserving what makes Austin special. We have to act and need to begin now – and this map is where we start.”

The current Land Development Code was created in the 1980s and is somewhat difficult to decipher.  In 2009 Austinites began to rethink the current code and what works for our growing and ever changing city.   Since then the City of Austin has been working on proposing the new Land Development Code.  The CodeNEXT initial draft release happened on February 1, 2017.  The City is now in the process of several open house events and hopes to finalize CodeNEXT early 2018.

If you are interested in more information on CodeNEXT click here.


*Information for this post gathered from The City of Austin and The Austin Chronicle

Protect Your Money, and Your Dreams!

Are you dreaming of buying your first home? Or maybe you are dreaming of selling your current house so you can move to your dream home, or realize some other life goal? Look out, because there are well-organized criminals intent on making that dream impossible for you. They insinuate themselves into your real estate transaction and turn it upside down, often by means of a simple email. These people are cybercriminals committing wire fraud, a virtual mugging when you move your money in a real estate transaction by wire transfer.

Cybercriminals hack into email accounts and send false wiring instructions, and before you know it, your money is headed to the wrong bank, many times out of state and even in another country.

In an article from the Chicago Tribune, several scenarios of wire fraud are mentioned involving hundreds of thousands of consumer dollars. This article was written in March of 2016, and since then the attempts of wire fraud have increased exponentially. The perpetrators are becoming craftier and more sophisticated each day, able to mimic the tone and content of a legitimate communication between you and your Realtor, bank, or title company.

You may be asking yourself, “How do I protect my dream?” At Independence Title, we have initiated several procedures to protect against wire fraud. Our closing teams have been thoroughly trained on what to look for and how to guard against these egregious attempts to hijack real estate transactions. Here are some things that you can do to protect yourself:

Buyers Should Verify Wiring Instructions Via Phone: To ensure you have the correct wiring instructions when you are sending money to Independence Title, please call our branch office using the phone numbers found on our website: www.independencetitle.com. Do this every time you wire funds, even if emailed instructions seem to come from a well-known and trusted source.
Sellers Should Bring Wiring Instructions to The Closing: When we are sending money to you, please bring your wiring instructions to our office in person. If you decide to change your instructions from what you have first provided, expect us to request that you appear in person at our office to sign off on the change.
Buyers & Sellers Should Change Your Email Passwords Frequently: Increasing your email security is a great way to help prevent wire fraud. Please change your email passwords frequently and if your platform offers two-step authentication, be sure and take advantage of this security feature.

Again, when working with Independence Title on a real estate transaction, you’re protected by encrypted email systems and well-trained employees, but your best protection is to verify information about money transfers strictly by telephone, using a confirmed phone number, or in person. We look forward to working together with you to protect your money, your investment goals, and your dreams!

Utilizing the Stats Tab in Matrix

Do you love the monthly statistics Independence Title sends out but are constantly wishing you could have more narrow, specific statistics to use in your personal marketing?  Maybe you want to show a Seller the average list price compared to the average sales price specifically in his subdivision?  Or maybe you want to go even further and narrow down that statistic to his subdivision AND homes with a pool?!

A popular question the Independence Title Education Team gets is about generating customized statistics.  The most common thought is that agents don’t have access and they must get it from us.  Did you know you can run a very specific, targeted statistic right in your very own Matrix account?

Below, we’ve put together a quick video walking you through how to pull targeted stats in Matrix.  We’ve also listed out step by step instructions as well.  This is a great tool to utilize for listing appointments, newsletters, farming, etc.  Go ahead, get creative!  Want some help brainstorming?  Call your local business development rep, we love that kind of stuff!

Here are the step by step instructions on how to pull customized stats in Matrix:

  • Click the STATS tab at the top of your Matrix homepage
  • Select the CUSTOMIZE tab on the left
  • Select the time frame you want to view
  • Select the first statistic you would like
  • Optional:  Click on Advanced Options at the bottom
  • Select the optional secondary statistic you would like
  • Select how you want the statistics grouped (See screen shot below for example.)
  • In the middle of the page enter the criteria you are searching.  (You can add additional fields at the bottom to find anything (similar to a search on Matrix — OR you can do a map search and draw a polygon.  You would click on the bolded MAP SEARCH at the top of the search page. )
  • Hit GENERATE on the left once you’ve put in all your criteria
  • You can view by chart or data (tabs at the top right of the chart)
  • VOILA!

Introducing A New Member to the Education Team!

Spring is in full bloom here in Texas, as is the real estate market!  Our Education Team is busy educating Realtors on the most important information and topics in the industry.  The demand for our classes has prompted the expansion of our team.  We are excited to announce our new trainer, Kaitlyn Mandry, who be training in the DFW market.

Kaitlyn Mandry has a Master’s Degree in Human Resource Development. Her expertise in adult learning and curriculum development will help our education team continually improve their creation of engaging content for our clients. Kaitlyn is passionate about people and training facilitation, so her transition into the world of real estate was a natural fit.

New Document Upload in Matrix

lifetime (1)Do you have questions about the new Document Upload in Matrix??  You’re not alone! The good news is, the Education Team at Independence Title is here to help you with the New Transaction Desk System. The document upload portion of the program is the only piece that you are required to use so we want to make sure you are an expert on uploading your documents. We put together this short demonstration video below that should help answer your questions.  Keep in mind, we also have a 1hr. CE course titled Translating Transaction Desk if you want to go beyond the simple document upload.


3 Key Elements to the Over 65 Property Tax Exemption

Over 65 Property Tax Exemption (6)One of our favorite classes to present is Property Tax Chat. It’s not the most exhilarating topic on the Independence Title class menu. However, agents end up enjoying it and walk away with the valuable knowledge to add to their arsenal of information. In our class, the exemption that gets the most attention is the over 65 exemption.

There are three key elements to this exemption:
1. A reduction in value before the various rates are applied
2. Quarterly tax payments accepted
3. The Independent School District (ISD) tax amount is frozen

With the first element, the reduction in value will not affect the market value, only the taxable value. Also, keep in mind not all taxing entities will use the reduced value to calculate the taxes owed.

The second element is an option for the homeowner to make partial payments throughout the year. The flexibility of a payment plan can be helpful for seniors on a fixed budget.

The third element is where it gets a bit sticky but hang with me. The dollar figure you pay for the ISD portion of the tax bill at the time you turn 65, will be the annual amount due for the remainder of the time you own and occupy the property. That’s pretty straightforward, and it’s an incredible savings!

It gets tricky when the homeowner wants to transfer the exemption to another property. Let’s walk through a scenario. Let’s say your client is in their 70’s with the over 65 exemption in place on their current home. Now they want to live life to the fullest and buy their dream home. Once they purchase the new home and request a transfer of the exemption, the tax office will look at the percentage they’ve been saving on the school taxes to apply to the new home. Ok, are you saying to yourself, um what?! Let’s break down the math. The property that they sold had an ISD tax amount of $5000 without any exemptions, but when they turned 65 and placed the exemption on the property, the ISD taxes were only $2500 and froze at that amount. They’ve been saving 50 percent. Now let’s look at how that savings will affect the new home. The new homes ISD taxes are $8000 without any exemptions. Once the over 65 percentage gets transferred, they will only pay $4000, for the ISD portion of the taxes. Only the percentage is transferred not the dollar amount. Clear as mud? For more information on exemption and the tax cycle, talk with your business development representative about attending our Property Tax Chat class.

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Closing Costs….Who’s Responsible?


Every agent knows the excitement of clients purchasing a new home or clients finally selling their house. Then your clients ask you “What am I responsible for paying for at my closing?”  It can be difficult to explain everything that goes into closing costs so we created a new marketing piece called “Closing Costs…Who’s Responsible?”  This piece helps show clients which party is responsible for the different closing costs.  Click here to view the piece and if you would like copies contact your Independence Title Business Development Representative.

New Classes for Abby Vasek!

abby-header-4Over the past year we at Independence Title have had the pleasure of working with Abby Vasek as an outside instructor. She is a delightful trainer that brings enthusiasm and joy into every class that she teaches. Recently Abby has been busy creating new classes to help teach Realtors more about the world of design. She has three brand new classes that are all worth 1 hour CE credit.

Effective Advertising Language for Listings | 1 HR CE | Course #31113
In this class you will learn to expand your knowledge, creativity and vocabulary real estate agents use to advertise their property listings. This interactive writing class will help you to not only hone in on marketing language but explore a communication style that allows each listing to get maximum exposure.

Styles of Architecture for Real Estate Agents | 1 HR CE | Course #31114
How fluent are you in architecture language? In this class you will learn about the many types and styles of architecture. There will be a major emphasis on architecture vocabulary so you can better describe the qualities of the homes you list. You will also gain the knowledge and confidence to speak with authority about building techniques, features and styles.

Styles of Design & Current Building Materials | 1 HR CE | Course #31112
The objective of this class is to help you improve your knowledge and vocabulary about current interior design styles and trends in building materials. This class will allow you to better showcase the homes you list and infuse value in areas of these listings by bringing attention to special design treatments or unique building materials. In this class you will gain the potential to elevate the level of language and service an agent can provide!

Contact your ITC Business Development Representative to book any of these classes with Abby!

My Assistant Can’t Do What?


The quarterly TREC meeting was held on August 15, 2016 and there was no discussion about changes to the current advertising rules as suspected.  Instead the commission focused on changes that could affect your assistant’s job description.  The proposed changes to TREC Rule 535.4 would impact the showing of properties by assistants who are unlicensed, and would eliminate the ability for an unlicensed assistant to hold an open house.

In order to create rules around unlicensed assistants showing properties, the committee proposed to include the following language in the definition of a “showing.” “Causing or permitting property to be seen by a prospective buyer or tenant, unlocking or providing access onto or into the property or hosting an open house at the property.” -TREC.  According to the proposed changes all of the actions in the definition of “showing” must be performed by a licensed broker or agent.  Of course like most rules there are exceptions.  Unlicensed assistants can show vacant property.  Vacant property being defined as the only thing left behind will convey with the sale.   If the property meets the definition of vacant and an unlicensed assistant is going to show the property, you must obtain written consent from the owner as well as the buyer/tenant prior to the showing.  You may also allow an unlicensed person to have unescorted access to a vacant property if the owner has given written consent.  Click Here to find out what language to include in these documents and to read the full version of the potential changes.

The final change that could affect unlicensed assistants’ job duties is to TREC Rule 535.5, License Not Required.  This change would remove the language that allows unlicensed individuals to hold an open house.  This would mean that only people with an active Real Estate license can hold open houses. Click Here to learn more.

The next meeting of the commission will be held on November 14th at 10:00am.  It is unclear if the proposed changes to TREC Rule 535.4 and the addition of TREC Rule 535.5 will be brought to a vote, and when they will become effective if passed, but updates will be posted as soon as they become available.  Staying on top of changing TREC Rules is always important for your business, and we encourage you to read more on the TREC website to determine how these changes will affect your business.  If you would like to make any comments to TREC on this or any of the proposed rule changes  email general.counsel@trec.texas.gov.

The Education Team at Independence Title has a mission to stay current on everything Real Estate.  We hope by bringing you information via our blog, you can stay on top of your fast paced and ever changing industry.

Meet Our New Outside Instructor!


The education team at Independence Title is thrilled to announce Pat Patton as a new outside instructor! Pat has been a licensed Real Estate Broker in the State of Texas since 1975. He holds Pat-4929_72dpiundergraduate degrees in Marketing and Management from The University of Texas and a Master’s degree with distinction in International Marketing from the University of Greenwich in London. He has expertise in account creation, design, development, and management. Pat also has a passion for education and even teaches Graduate Level courses in his spare time. Pat’s background as a REALTOR and educator are great assets the education team and enables him to train from his first-hand experience.

Pat will be teaching Broker Responsibility and Legal Update I and II for Independence Title. If you are interested in booking a class with Pat please contact your Business Development Representative.

Legal Update I (4 HRS CE | Course #29622)  This mandatory TREC certified course covers the legal aspects of conducting real estate business.

Legal Update II (4 HRS CE | Course #29623)  This mandatory TREC certified course covers the legislative changes that affect the Real Estate community from the 2015 state legislature.

Broker Responsibility (6 HRS CE | Course #27767)  This mandatory TREC certified course covers the regulatory aspects of the management, operation and supervision of a real estate brokerage firm in Texas. Brokers as well as Sales Agents are welcome to attend!

Contact your business development rep today to schedule one of these classes!

Provider #0403

Top Three Reasons to Complete Paragraph 21


Paragraph 21. NOTICES is often not completed upon execution of the final contract. We’ve heard many different reasons for leaving it blank over the years. A strong contender is the agent simply doesn’t readily have the information at the time of the offer. Some agents choose to list their own address, email, and phone number. Other agents even fear listing their client’s information. The One to Four Family Residential Contract states that all communication from one party to the other must be in writing and are effective when emailed, mailed, hand delivered, or faxed to the contact info listed in the blanks of paragraph 21.

Here are the top 3 reasons you should complete this very important paragraph of the contract.

1. In today’s real estate world we must adhere to the regulations of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) . Due to this, lenders will require an address for the buyer(s) and seller(s) on every Closing Disclosure (CD). The completion of this information allows lenders to remain compliant with TILA-RESPA Integrated Disclosure (TRID) guidelines. It can delay lender approval and delivery of the document if this information is not completed timely.

2. As stated in the contract, Paragraph 21 is where notices are sent to the parties during the contract to close timeline. Here at Independence Title Company we offer to forward many items on behalf of the agents and/or the seller, per the contract. We cannot do that without the contact information. Some examples may include the survey, HOA resale package, restrictions, title commitment, and ordering the Home Warranty .

3. Time sensitive action is required in most provisions of the contract. Listing yourself as the point of contact can cause a delay in the delivery of items and/or increase your liability to your client.

If you are hesitant to put buyers’ and sellers’ contact information in Paragraph 21, as long as you’re using the contact information to provide notice to the other party you’re not soliciting another agent’s client. However, we do offer an alternative if not listing contact info is important to you or your company. We provide a Buyers/Sellers Information sheet with the receipted contract. This information sheet is not shared and is kept in our secure file. The completed form can be mailed, emailed or faxed back to us. For further information, please reach out to your Escrow Team or your Business Development Representative.

Have You Updated IndependenceTitleAgent?

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Have you ever tried to explain a Seller’s Net Sheet to someone and their native language is Vietnamese? Or have you ever had trouble comparing multiple offers IndependenceTitleAgent can help! IndependenceTitleAgent is a closing cost app that will help you calculate closing costs, run Seller Net Sheets and Buyer Quick Estimates, and so much more!

IndependenceTitleAgent has added new features in its most recent update! Below are the features you can start using today:

Languages: IndependenceTitleAgent has added 6 new languages to the app: Vietnamese, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Russian, and Arabic. The new languages can be applied to all printouts and marketing pieces. To change the language, simply select the language icon at the top of the preview screen.
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Multiple Offer Comparison Enhancements: Comparing multiple offers can be confusing and time consuming. Instead of creating a spreadsheet, have the app do the comparing for you! Before the update, you could compare up to 3 offers but now you can compare up to 12 offers!


New Printout Styles: Every client that you work with is different. Some may be visual learners while others may just want a list of data. There are many new printout styles to choose from when sending customized reports to your clients. After generating a report, simply swipe left to see the different styles.

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Closing Date Default: Instead of choosing a closing date every time you run a quick estimate or seller’s net sheet, simply choose a default of 30, 60, or 90 days out and it will automatically default to that every time.

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Contact your ITC Business Development Representative for more information about IndependenceTitleAgent!

To Download click below!

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The Ultimate App!!

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How much will my monthly payment be? How much do I need to bring to the closing table? How much will I net at closing? If you are a Realtor you probably hear these questions every day from your buyers and sellers.

What if you could answer your clients’ questions within seconds with one user-friendly app?

IndependenceTitleAgent is THE APP that will make your life easier and impress your clients! Generate Buyer Quick Estimates, Seller Net Sheets, access Rent vs. Buy and Net-to-Sell calculators, and more . . . from your smartphone, tablet, or desktop!

Follow the steps below to download IndependenceTitleAgent and be on your way to real estate greatness!


Be sure to attend “The Ultimate App” class or contact your Independence Title Business Development Rep for more information.  You can also download the desktop version at www.independenceagent.com.

To download click below!Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 8.09.52 AMScreen Shot 2016-05-24 at 8.11.31 AM

In Praise of Texas Title Insurance

Kara McGregor, Sr. Vice President of Business Development, Independence Title

Advocates for the deregulation of Texas title insurance don’t fully understand the product, or the ways in which the industry in Texas is exemplary.

In the U.S., for a one-time fee a title insurance policy protects property owners from losing their homes due to claims against their title to the property or old debt against the property. Texas title companies pay millions in claims every year. The policy is a one-time purchase to reduce the risk of financial losses, making it more like a financial service product than other types of insurance. Furthermore, unlike property, casualty and auto insurance, which have seen premiums rise steadily over the past 25 years, title premiums in Texas have dropped 15%.

Homeowners can rest easy about the integrity of their Texas title policy as to what it covers and what it doesn’t, and as to the rates they are paying for all the coverages and closing services provided by title companies. Texas offers one of the most transparent and complete set of coverages in the nation, with consistent rates applied evenly to all purchasers, residential and commercial alike. Homeowners in other states have to pay attorneys many times our rates to ensure the same coverages that are built into Texas title policies.  Furthermore, other states may have lower premiums in a few cases, but the premium is a small portion of the cost of closing a real estate transaction.  Texas closing costs are highly competitive when you compare all fees that title companies charge.

Other states with varying degrees of deregulation in their title industries are looking at Texas as a potential model to better protect consumers.  We have built an industry with integrity and transparency, and it is in the best interest of Texas homeowners that we continue to uphold the rules and regulations that make Texas a safe and welcoming environment for consumers and businesses alike.  Not only is our system not broken, it is a shining example of best practices in consumer protections.

Instagram for Real Estate

instagram for real estate

Did you know that Facebook purchased Instagram for $715 million 4 years ago? That’s right, almost a BILLION DOLLARS! At that time Instagram only employed 12 people. Needless to say, a lot has changed in the last 4 years, especially when it comes to Instagram’s popularity as well as overall marketing via social media.

We want you to be equipped in the new wave of marketing, which is why Instagram should be part of your daily routine. You can’t use the excuse of “I don’t have time” with Instagram. It takes less than 1 minute to take a picture, tag it, caption it and post to Instagram.

In our 1-hour CE class “Instagram for Real Estate”, we will show you how to do just that. In addition, we’ll cover hashtags, discuss proper Instagram etiquette and provide reasons along with supporting evidence as to why you should be using Instagram for Real Estate now.

Want more information? Check out these facts below about Instagram.


How can TRID Regulations affect your commissions?


It is important to remember that the new closing disclosure forms, created by the CFPB, are federal loan forms and these promulgated forms are used in all 50 states.  This allows for consistency when consumers are buying or selling real estate.  Since each state has their own set of regulations, regarding real estate, they may have their own disclosures that will need to be executed at closing in addition to the federal forms.  In Texas, the Texas Department of Insurance created the Texas Disclosure (Form T-64) to adhere to Texas regulations.

The Texas Disclosure:

  • Explains and breaks out simultaneous title policy premium rates.
  • Itemizes title company fees and recording fees if combined on CD.
  • Specifies all agents receiving a portion of the commission.
  • Allows the consumer/seller to authorize the title company to fund and disburse.

Per the Texas Department of Insurance, anyone that receives funds from a real estate transaction must be disclosed at closing.  The Texas Disclosure does allow all the payees on the Commission Disbursement Authorization (DA) to be listed on the disclosure. This section of the document is on the page that is signed by the consumer and seller at closing, unlike page 2 of the 2010 HUD. If the title company does not have an agent’s DA prior to the consumer or seller executing this document, one check will be cut at funding directly to their broker. This will have no affect the other agent in the transaction as long as their DA is received in a timely manner.

How are you going to see your figures for closing?


As we near the end of 2015 I think we should focus on one detail of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) regulations, which is the American Land Title Association (ALTA) Settlement Statement. For most residential transactions the ALTA Settlement Statement is a Realtor’s new best friend. This form is quickly becoming the golden ticket among title companies as a solution for navigating new privacy rules that limit which closing documents can be shared from a real estate transaction.

New lending practices mandated by the CFPB, effective Oct. 3rd, in conjunction with existing privacy laws, prevent title companies from sharing the Borrower’s Closing Disclosure with the seller or with Realtors. The Closing Disclosure, or “CD,” combines the HUD-1 and Truth in Lending form and is prepared in most cases by the lender. There are promulgated authorizations from TREC (last paragraph of the new Third Party Financing Addendum) and TAR (“Authorization to Furnish TILA/RESPA Integrated Disclosures”), but it is unknown if lenders’ compliance departments will accept these authorizations. The Closing Disclosure contains non-public information like the term of the loan, interest rate, payment amount, and so forth.

The ALTA Settlement Statement shows all fees from the contract and the Closing Disclosure It also allows Realtors to confirm that all provisions of the contract have been honored and all agreements between parties are satisfied, without specific authorizations for the lender to release the Borrower’s CD. The ALTA form does not contain non-public information, and can be shared with all parties. Most importantly, Realtors requesting a preliminary closing statement will likely be receiving the fees on the ALTA Settlement Statement.

If your title company is unaware of this solution, feel free to refer them to the “ALTA Combined Settlement Statement”.

For more information, visit the Independence Title Blog, and our Austin Education page.

Should you have coffee with your lender?


CFPB & TRID regulations are now upon us! As of October 3rd any loan applications submitted will fall under TRID (TILA RESPA Integrated Disclosures) regulations. If you have a lender that you refer business to Independence Title Co encourages you to have coffee or lunch with them to find out how your lender will be conducting business with the new rules & regulations.

Over the last 10 months we have spoken with numerous loan officers, processors, attorneys, and compliance departments and each lender may interpret TRID regulations differently from one another. Here is a list of questions to get the conversation started with your favorite lender.
Q: Who prepares your Closing Disclosure?
ITC Perspective:
• Most lenders are taking on this responsibility
• They are responsible for the accuracy of the Closing Disclosure
• They are also responsible for adhering to the strict timeline for delivery
Q: How will you deliver the Closing Disclosure to the consumer?
ITC Perspective:
Delivery method can impact closing date
• USPS mail may require up to 7 days
• Overnight delivery may require up to 4 days
• Hand delivery or electronic delivery may require 3 days
Q: Do you require a signature on the Closing Disclosure to start the 3-day review period?
ITC Perspective:
• It is not in the regulations that the consumer must sign the Closing Disclosure
• Lenders may or may not want a signed copy returned
Q: Can I get a copy of the Closing Disclosure from the lender?
ITC Perspective:
• The regulations state that the Closing Disclosure to the consumer
• The Texas Association of Realtors created an Authorization Form for consumers to give authorization for their Realtor to receive a copy of the Closing Disclosure
• Some lenders may not accept this form but they might have a similar form to allow the Realtor to receive copies of the disclosures
Q: What is your contract to close turn around time?
ITC Perspective:
• Most lending professionals agree that a 45 day turn around time is realistic
• By early 2016 we might see a 30 day contract to close timeline
Q: Tell me about your pre-qualification/pre-approval process?
ITC Perspective:
• Prior to the CFPB there was a regulation in regards to pre-qualification/pre-approval process in existence but it was mostly overlooked
• The rule stated that a lender cannot require upfront documentation prior to a bone-a-fide loan application
• With CFPB audits right around the corner some lenders may be changing their pre-approval process
• Consumers may voluntarily provide upfront documentation for pre-approval
• See our Consumer’s Guide Brochure

For more information on CFPB check out our related blog post

Our Online Calculators ready for the New Regulations