Love? Not Actually… Steps to Protect Yourself from Cybercrime

Welcome to the first article in a series from Independence Title on how to keep yourself, your devices, and your transactions safe from cybercrime. Check out the bottom of the article for more info on this series and how you can get involved.

Can the most expensive date of your life lead to cybercrime?

Jean was nervous but also very excited!  She joined an online dating site.  Almost immediately Jean made a connection with Bill.  He lived in an adjacent state and seemed to check every box she was looking for in a partner. It was only a matter of time before they were communicating nonstop. Shortly afterward, they agreed to meet in person.

The day before the meeting, Jean received a message from Bill —he had wrecked his truck and couldn’t make the long drive. He was apologetic and shared how much he wanted to see her. With a strained budget, he couldn’t afford an airplane ticket.  Naively, Jean offered to lend him the money. Bill thanked her and promised to pay it back. When the big day arrived, Bill never showed!  It wasn’t long until Jean realized Bill didn’t exist.  She had become a victim of cybercrime through what’s known as “social engineering.”

This attack is a typical story!  Others have used dating sites to lure victims into sharing passwords, installing malware, or asking for loads of personal information to steal an unsuspecting victim’s identity. The irony is it occurs across all mediums (email, text messages, phone calls) and isn’t restricted solely to dating sites.

Here are a few warning signs to watch out for whether you are in the midst of a real estate transaction or on a dating site this Valentine’s Day!

  • If the opportunity is too good to be true
  • The deal moves too quickly or time constrained
  • Is from a foreign country and about to relocate
  • Has an email that doesn’t match their name
  • Requests personal data such as bank and financial information

Take Action: There are fundamental ways to protect yourself.  First, NEVER use apps or a website on an unprotected public wireless network. If a hacker gains access to your account, the odds are you’ll never know until it’s too late. USE a private network or your mobile hotspot.

Second, NEVER share personal information over apps, email, or texts.  It’s far too easy for fraudsters to use that information to steal your money and identity.  MAKE phone calls instead!

As you work with clients this week between candy hearts and flowers, remember websites and apps on your devices can be an effortless way for hackers to get in and threaten your real estate transactions. From us at Independence Title to all the sweethearts out there, stay safe and stay tuned for more vital cybercrime tips to come!

We at Independence Title are committed to protecting our friends and clients from the ever-growing threat of cybercrime, and we’re here to help you stay one step ahead of the scammers. In this blog series, we’re going to explore all avenues and best practices on how to keep real estate transactions safe from cyberattacks that lead to identity theft and wire fraud. Real estate transactions are now the #3 target for cybercrime, just under governments (#1), and corporations (#2). Since millions of dollars are lost each year to cyber criminals, we thought it would be a good idea to share stories and tips to keep you and your real estate business safe. Each month, we’ll talk about the latest hacking crimes to watch out for and how to defend against them.

 We also encourage you to interact with us and share how cybercrime has affected you or someone you know. We can all learn from each other!   To help create a good defense against scammers we need to all help protect our internet usage. Contact us at Cyberblog@independencetitle.com to share your story, share an idea for a blog, or ask a question!

[DFW] New Spring Education Menus!

The Independence Title Education Team has been working hard on developing new and improving existing classes for you!  See a list below of all the brand new and updated classes we are offering this Spring.  Check out our online menu for all classes offered by the Education Team.  To schedule one of these great classes in your office, contact your local Independence Title Business Development Representative.  You may also join us at any of our public classes.

New Classes:
New! Agent Bootcamp | 6 HR CE Available
Have you ever had the feeling that you missed something in Real Estate School?  Like, what’s a title commitment, how to read a survey, and overall strategies for managing smooth transactions?  Not to mention the numerous platforms that you have to master. You can always know more about zipForm, DocuSign, and your MLS system!  As agents, you wear many hats and that can be overwhelming.  In session one of the Agent Bootcamp series, you’ll learn more about: precontract strategies, contract details from a title company’s perspective, title commitments, tips for closing, and surveys.  In session two, you’ll learn how to use zipForm, DocuSign, and your MLS system to their full potential.  Mastering these topics is the real way you’ll become an expert, be the best agent you can be for your client, and ultimately grow your business.
Session 1:
-Principles of a Smart Transaction – CE#31949
-Surveys at a Glance – CE#32573

Session 2:
-Maximizing Matrix – CE#35966
-Tools for Target Marketing – CE#35060
-A Guide to zipForm Plus and DocuSign – CE#33051

New! Boosting Your Business with New Home Sales | 1 HR CE | CE# 35311
Do new home sales make you nervous?  Many agents miss out on builder business due to a lack of knowledge. This course will address what agents need to know in order to offer their buyers the best possible representation throughout the new construction process. From helping clients make important decisions to tips on following up post-closing, Boosting your Business with New Home Sales will make you a new home sales natural!

New! Hacking Happens: Cyber Security 101 | 1 HR CE | CE#35625
Did you know that 60% of small businesses go out of business within six months of being victimized by cybercrime?  Hacking happens to all of us, whether we know it or not. Do not wait to be a victim!  In this class, you’ll learn how to protect your business and personal network usage. Also, discover how to educate your clients on the best methods of communication and wire transfers.

New! Lights, Camera, Action! Video Basics for Real Estate | 1 HR CE | CE#35758
With video marketing on the rise, there’s no doubt that video and YouTube are becoming more popular in the real estate community.  Have you ever considered making a video for your business? If you have but aren’t sure how to get started, this class is perfect for you!   In this class, learn how to create and customize your personal YouTube channel, upload and edit videos, and make the best use of mobile apps for on-the-go access.  You’ll also learn why online video is so crucial to your business, as well as the different types of videos you have the ability to create.  By the end of the presentation, you’ll feel prepared to use video to its fullest potential.

New! Post It! What, Why & When to Post on Social Media | 1 HR CE | CE#35640
In this class, we’ll discuss the three W’s of posting content to your social media channels:  What, Why & When.  We’ll discuss different strategies of what to post to reach your target audience and how to leverage your personal page as well as your business page.  You’ll learn how to build content that creates interest as well as how to read and understand your analytics.  You’ll leave this class with a simple social media strategy to achieve your goals on your social media platforms.

New! Realtor Hacks | 1 HR CE | Course#33023
Do you know what a “hack” is? According to dictionary.com, a hack is: “a strategy or technique adopted in order to manage one’s time and daily activities in a more efficient way”.  The term most commonly used is “life hack”.  For example, did you know there is a website that will help you unsubscribe to junk mail? There is also an app that will correct lighting in your listing photos.  We will talk about these cool hacks and more in an effort to help you work smarter, not harder!

New! What the FIRPTA? | 1 HR CE | CE#35547
How familiar are you with Paragraph 20 (Federal Tax Requirements) of the TREC One to Four Family Contract? Is it clear as mud? Have you heard the acronym FIRPTA but could use more information? This section of the contract is becoming very popular as foreign investors become more and more common. In this class, we’ll break down what exactly FIRPTA stands for and what you need to know about it.

Updated Classes:
Updated! Maximizing Matrix: We know you’re busy!  Let us help you make the most of your MLS system.  More than likely you already know how to search for homes, but we want to show you so much more.  In this class, we will present the top 25 things you might not know about Matrix.

Updated! Tools for Target Marketing:  What exactly is a target market?  How do I calculate agent saturation and turnover rate in an area?  Can I export mailing lists and labels?  What if we told you these tools are actually right at your fingertips? In this class, you’ll learn the answers to these questions and more.

Contact your Independence Title Business Development Rep for printed copies of the menu.

[San Antonio] New Spring Education Menus!

The Independence Title Education Team has been working hard on developing new and improving existing classes for you!  See a list below of all the brand new and updated classes we are offering this Spring.  Check out our online menu for all classes offered by the Education Team.  To schedule one of these great classes in your office, contact your local Independence Title Business Development Representative.  You may also join us at any of our public classes.

New Classes:
New! Agent Bootcamp | 6 HR CE Available
Have you ever had the feeling that you missed something in Real Estate School?  Like, what’s a title commitment, how to read a survey, and overall strategies for managing smooth transactions?  Not to mention the numerous platforms that you have to master. You can always know more about zipForm, DocuSign, and your MLS system!  As agents, you wear many hats and that can be overwhelming.  In session one of the Agent Bootcamp series, you’ll learn more about: precontract strategies, contract details from a title company’s perspective, title commitments, tips for closing, and surveys.  In session two, you’ll learn how to use zipForm, DocuSign, and your MLS system to their full potential.  Mastering these topics is the real way you’ll become an expert, be the best agent you can be for your client, and ultimately grow your business.
Session 1:
-Principles of a Smart Transaction – CE#31949
-Surveys at a Glance – CE#32573

Session 2:
-Maximizing MLS – CE#33708
-Tools for Target Marketing – CE#35060
-A Guide to zipForm Plus and DocuSign – CE#33051

OR (New Braunfels Only)
-Maximizing Matrix – CE#35966
-Research With Realist – CE#35060
-A Guide to zipForm Plus and DocuSign – CE#33051

New! Boosting Your Business with New Home Sales | 1 HR CE | CE# 35311
Do new home sales make you nervous?  Many agents miss out on builder business due to a lack of knowledge. This course will address what agents need to know in order to offer their buyers the best possible representation throughout the new construction process. From helping clients make important decisions to tips on following up post-closing, Boosting your Business with New Home Sales will make you a new home sales natural!

New! Hacking Happens: Cyber Security 101 | 1 HR CE | CE#35625
Did you know that 60% of small businesses go out of business within six months of being victimized by cybercrime?  Hacking happens to all of us, whether we know it or not. Do not wait to be a victim!  In this class, you’ll learn how to protect your business and personal network usage. Also, discover how to educate your clients on the best methods of communication and wire transfers.

New! Lights, Camera, Action! Video Basics for Real Estate | 1 HR CE | CE#35758
With video marketing on the rise, there’s no doubt that video and YouTube are becoming more popular in the real estate community.  Have you ever considered making a video for your business? If you have but aren’t sure how to get started, this class is perfect for you!   In this class, learn how to create and customize your personal YouTube channel, upload and edit videos, and make the best use of mobile apps for on-the-go access.  You’ll also learn why online video is so crucial to your business, as well as the different types of videos you have the ability to create.  By the end of the presentation, you’ll feel prepared to use video to its fullest potential.

New! Post It! What, Why & When to Post on Social Media | 1 HR CE | CE#35640
In this class, we’ll discuss the three W’s of posting content to your social media channels:  What, Why & When.  We’ll discuss different strategies of what to post to reach your target audience and how to leverage your personal page as well as your business page.  You’ll learn how to build content that creates interest as well as how to read and understand your analytics.  You’ll leave this class with a simple social media strategy to achieve your goals on your social media platforms.

New! Realtor Hacks | 1 HR CE | Course#33023
Do you know what a “hack” is? According to dictionary.com, a hack is: “a strategy or technique adopted in order to manage one’s time and daily activities in a more efficient way”.  The term most commonly used is “life hack”.  For example, did you know there is a website that will help you unsubscribe to junk mail? There is also an app that will correct lighting in your listing photos.  We will talk about these cool hacks and more in an effort to help you work smarter, not harder!

New! What the FIRPTA? | 1 HR CE | CE#35547
How familiar are you with Paragraph 20 (Federal Tax Requirements) of the TREC One to Four Family Contract? Is it clear as mud? Have you heard the acronym FIRPTA but could use more information? This section of the contract is becoming very popular as foreign investors become more and more common. In this class, we’ll break down what exactly FIRPTA stands for and what you need to know about it.

Updated Classes:

Updated! Tools for Target Marketing:  What exactly is a target market?  How do I calculate agent saturation and turnover rate in an area?  Can I export mailing lists and labels?  What if we told you these tools are actually right at your fingertips? In this class, you’ll learn the answers to these questions and more.

Contact your Independence Title Business Development Rep for printed copies of the menu.

[Austin] New Spring Education Menus!

The Independence Title Education Team has been working hard on developing new and improving existing classes for you!  See a list below of all the brand new and updated classes we are offering this Spring.  Check out our online menu for all classes offered by the Education Team.  To schedule one of these great classes in your office, contact your local Independence Title Business Development Representative.  You may also join us at any of our public classes.

New Classes:
New! Agent Bootcamp | CE Available
Have you ever had the feeling that you missed something in Real Estate School?  Like, what’s a title commitment, how to read a survey, and overall strategies for managing smooth transactions?  Not to mention the numerous platforms that you have to master. You can always know more about zipForm, DocuSign, and Matrix!  As agents, you wear many hats and that can be overwhelming.  In session one of the Agent Bootcamp series, you’ll learn more about: precontract strategies, contract details from a title company’s perspective, title commitments, tips for closing, and surveys.  In session two, you’ll learn how to use zipForm, DocuSign, and Matrix to their full potential.  Mastering these topics is the real way you’ll become an expert, be the best agent you can be for your client, and ultimately grow your business.

New! Boosting Your Business with New Home Sales | 1 HR CE | CE# 35311
Do new home sales make you nervous?  Many agents miss out on builder business due to a lack of knowledge. This course will address what agents need to know in order to offer their buyers the best possible representation throughout the new construction process. From helping clients make important decisions to tips on following up post-closing, Boosting your Business with New Home Sales will make you a new home sales natural!

New! Hacking Happens: Cyber Security 101 | 1 HR CE | CE#35625
Did you know that 60% of small businesses go out of business within six months of being victimized by cybercrime?  Hacking happens to all of us, whether we know it or not. Do not wait to be a victim!  In this class, you’ll learn how to protect your business and personal network usage. Also, discover how to educate your clients on the best methods of communication and wire transfers.

New! Lights, Camera, Action! Video Basics for Real Estate | 1 HR CE | CE#35758
With video marketing on the rise, there’s no doubt that video and YouTube are becoming more popular in the real estate community.  Have you ever considered making a video for your business? If you have but aren’t sure how to get started, this class is perfect for you!   In this class, learn how to create and customize your personal YouTube channel, upload and edit videos, and make the best use of mobile apps for on-the-go access.  You’ll also learn why online video is so crucial to your business, as well as the different types of videos you have the ability to create.  By the end of the presentation, you’ll feel prepared to use video to its fullest potential.

New! Post It! What, Why & When to Post on Social Media | 1 HR CE | CE#35640
In this class, we’ll discuss the three W’s of posting content to your social media channels:  What, Why & When.  We’ll discuss different strategies of what to post to reach your target audience and how to leverage your personal page as well as your business page.  You’ll learn how to build content that creates interest as well as how to read and understand your analytics.  You’ll leave this class with a simple social media strategy to achieve your goals on your social media platforms.

New! What the FIRPTA? | 1 HR CE | CE#35547
How familiar are you with Paragraph 20 (Federal Tax Requirements) of the TREC One to Four Family Contract? Is it clear as mud? Have you heard the acronym FIRPTA but could use more information? This section of the contract is becoming very popular as foreign investors become more and more common. In this class, we’ll break down what exactly FIRPTA stands for and what you need to know about it.

Updated Classes:
Updated! Maximizing Matrix: We know you’re busy!  Let us help you make the most of your MLS system.  More than likely you already know how to search for homes, but we want to show you so much more.  In this class, we will present the top 25 things you might not know about Matrix.

Updated! Tools for Target Marketing:  What exactly is a target market?  How do I calculate agent saturation and turnover rate in an area?  Can I export mailing lists and labels?  What if we told you these tools are actually right at your fingertips? In this class, you’ll learn the answers to these questions and more.

Contact your Independence Title Business Development Rep for printed copies of the menu.

It’s the End of the (Paper) World As We Know It…and We Feel Fine!

As paper disappears more and more from our daily lives, the real estate industry sometimes seems like one of the last vestiges of ink-and-paper transactions. These days you can buy a car, enroll in college, start a new job, file your taxes, sign up for home and car insurance, and send money anywhere in the world, all without ever having to put a wet signature on anything. Why should real estate closings be any different? New technologies and legislative changes now make it easier than ever to save a tree on your next home purchase or sale, which is why we at Independence Title are now thrilled to be able to offer our customers the possibility of a 100% electronic closing.

Who can we thank for this wonderful change? Our new best friend RON, of course! This year, a new law went into effect for the first time in Texas that allows a signer’s acknowledgment to be taken and their identity verified by a RON – Remote Online Notary. Texas is the third state out of only four that currently allow webcam notarizations, although there are bills pending in about a dozen other states. This opens up a new world for paperless closings—previously, a notary was required to be physically present in front of signers in order to verify their signatures and take their acknowledgments. Now a remote online notary can verify a signer’s identity via webcam, witness the signer e-sign the documents, and then affix the notary’s own electronic signature and seal to the document. No paper required! The buyer could be here in Texas while the sellers are sipping hot cocoa at their vacation home in Colorado and we could still make the closing happen without anyone getting on a plane or having to send a mobile notary up a snowy mountain road.

Buyers on cash transactions typically don’t need to sign anything that requires notarization, so they can easily and quickly sign all of their documents using DocuSign. Because of this, Independence can now offer most cash buyers a 100% electronic closing with no additional cost. For sellers on cash transactions, typically there’s at least one document that needs to be notarized, and Independence can offer a remote online notary for a nominal cost, comparable to signing physically in front of a notary.

You may be wondering, are electronic transactions only available for cash deals? Absolutely not! Closings involving loans can also be completed 100% electronically with a reasonable fee for either side of the transaction. However, the lender must be on board with accepting e-signatures from all parties including the notary, so always check with your lender first before counting on an electronic closing. Depending on the transaction, the fees for an online notary may be charged by the lender rather than the title company.

Click here to view a list of some of the requirements for performing an e-closing with a remote online notary to see if this might be a possibility for your next transaction. This list may change as new information becomes available, so always be sure to check with your escrow team.

Questions about how this all works? Ready to try your first completely electronic closing? Give us a call to speak one of our expert closing specialists today!

“If Only I Had Known …”

This is the refrain repeated by so many home buyers who lost or almost lost their savings from a wire fraud attempt during the process of buying a home: “If only I had known.”

Those of us in the real estate industry are very aware of the potential risks of wiring money in an age where cybercriminals continually challenge the security of digital communications.  Home buyers and sellers are largely unaware of the dangers, unless the real estate, mortgage and title professionals working with them communicate it loud and clear.  We at Independence Title inform clients of the risks and suggest safe protocols in our communications with them numerous times during the transaction, in a variety of ways.  However, all of us in the real estate industry needs to be shouting louder and more often about it.  There is no such thing as under-communicating on this topic!

Earlier this year, the Texas Association of Realtors developed a form that makes it easier than ever to communicate the importance of protecting your clients and yourself from wire thieves.  The title of TAR form 2517 says it all, Wire Fraud Warning.

This form does a great job of explaining the potential risks of transferring funds via wire and how to minimize those risks.  It’s a great way to help inform your buyers, and sellers so they can take steps to protect themselves, and one more opportunity for them to hear and understand the risks.

Most fraud attempts involve a criminal hijacking the email of some party to the transaction and sending a fraudulent communication to a buyer or seller with wiring instructions that direct funds to the criminal’s bank account. Some attempts have even included phone calls and texts from the fraudster impersonating a Realtor, mortgage lender or escrow officer confirming the “secure receipt” of the false instructions; early bird discounts for wiring and/or threats that not sending the wire could wreck the transaction.

Independence Title strongly suggests that buyers and sellers use cashier’s checks as the safer choice for bringing money to closing.  In most cases, consumers already must go to their bank in person to initiate a wire.  It’s simple and in most cases cheaper to get a cashier’s check instead.  In years past, on cash transactions, there have been instances of fraudulent cashier’s checks but that’s a risk that impacts the title company only and at Independence, we are absolutely willing to shoulder that responsibility in the interest of protecting consumer’s funds.

If you have any questions about your options on how to bring funds to closing, we have several resources on our website and you can always contact your escrow team.

A special note to Realtors: the next time you’re writing up an offer for your buyer or negotiating a contract for your seller, don’t forget TAR form 2517.  It’s an important step for the education and protection of all parties!

 

The Sky Is Not Falling. Mark Sprague’s Texas Market Update

The unemployment rate has hit a new low — 3.7 percent — that was last seen in December of 1969. Of course, things were a little different in the late 1960s. Back then you could support a family on one income and still own a house and a car. These days? Not so much.  In fact, close to 5% of the population now works two jobs.  Secondly, the average house in America cost $24,000. Mortgage interest rates were around 6.2% in 1968. This was considered to be relatively high back then. Things have changed a bit.

Yes, interest rates have increased, and the concern of interest rate increase is real, but rates are still inexpensive.  In the 70’s they were an average of 8.26%, the 80s – 12.7%, the 90’s –  8.12%, the 2000’s –  6.29%,  2010 to 2018 – 4.23%.   Will rates come down?  Let’s hope not, as that would be a sign of the economy faltering.

The good news is that in the last 50 years, buyers are carrying the least debt into qualifying for mortgages,  i.e. better-qualified buyers.  Yes, the rates creeping up will cause some buyers to buy less, but presently it has not stopped buyers from buying.  Historically, when rates move a ½ point to a point at a time is when sales slow for 60 to 90 days….then buyers jump back in, realizing rates aren’t coming back down.

Housing continues to be a seller’s market, with a lack of inventory continuing to be a problem in all price points. And home sales continue at a record pace this year.  With continued job growth, the market should remain strong, but the homes have to be priced correctly (within 5% of the median value of the neighborhood) to sell.

Any discussion of slowing of the market is not true.  Call the experts.

Is the Texas Market Still Booming? Mark Sprague’s Texas Market Update

The Texas metros housing markets have certainly been booming over the last several years.  But as I’ve said before, the concern is when is the slowdown?  Is it imminent, in a couple of years, when?

Home sales across the U.S. have seen a slight drop for the fourth straight month in July of this year. This is in spite of a strong national and local economy after 9+ years, a thriving and understaffed labor market, a 17-year high on consumer confidence. All positive responses historically to seeing an improved housing market. Yet it has slowed.

Because of the crowd psychology of any market, this continues to cause many to question: is the Texas housing market slowing? If it’s happening elsewhere, it’s bound to be happening here, right?

Again the assurance is, regionally Texas metros continue strong appreciation and sales.  Austin and San Antonio, over 4% sales growth annually over the last 12 months,  Houston and Dallas a bit less.  So we are talking about degrees of success.  Price gains are still strong across the board.  Rents continue to escalate annually and will as long as there is less than a four-month supply of apartments. in the pipeline.  Job creation continues to be strong across most channels in all major Texas metros.

See below for residential sales price breakdowns YOY:

As you can see, the ability to deliver affordable housing under $300K is a challenge and will continue to be.

Rather than questioning this, I would suggest that with increasing costs of building, labor and development and higher lending rates, why wait?  Every time rates go up 1% you lose 12% buying power. 90% of all builders are experiencing framing and finishing carpentry issues, and 85+% are experiencing plumbing shortages.   Builders are seeing a 20+% annual labor and materials cost increase, which in turn increases values.  The home/apartment you look at today will be gone tomorrow, and more expensive.

As always, we are here to assist you in your decision and will be glad to answer any questions or concerns you may have.

Mark’s Monthly Texas Market Update

By Mark Sprague, State Director of Information Capital at Independence Title

Is the local housing market slowing?

Locally, regionally, and nationally, that seems to be a common question / theme. Locally, I can tell you that most of the Texas metros have been on a sustained, positive run, with Austin’s being the longest at over 9 years (6 years being the longest previously).

Real estate values and sales have done well in Texas over the last decade, with most cities achieving their highest values ever. So, why the pessimism? Part of it is so many were unprepared for the 2005 financial disaster and recession as well as the 2009 slowdown. It would be nice to be able to predict when the next one is. That said, so many missed the signs of overdevelopment in the last downturns. So why the questions? Our housing and real estate markets in the Texas metros (except Houston) have been so strong in all channels this year that if a property doesn’t sell right away, it may feel that the market has turned sour.

Despite the mostly good trends, worries are common as to whether or not the housing market has peaked and is ready for a slide. How steep and how fast? After all, existing home sales have fallen every month since June, save one. Additionally, housing starts, traditionally a good leading indicator of potential economic recession, tumbled in June from the prior month. Moreover, many Americans have painful, lingering memories of the home price crash, rising foreclosures, and 10 million net job losses from the housing market bust a decade ago (where over 55% of all foreclosures happened in the sand states, not Texas). Naturally, they want to know if there is even a remote possibility of a housing downturn.

First, what is happening in the market presently appears to be more of a seasonal slowing, prior to school starting. Second, two months is NOT a trend.

To see if the market is slowing, what are the signs? You need to look for lack of GDP growth, lack of job growth, easy mortgage financing (requiring little to no down and easy qualifying), new and resale inventory increasing, other real estate channels showing signs of overbuilding or slowing of values, etc. There are no indications of any of this happening. Quite the opposite, in fact.

The lack of supply and the accompanying real estate and home values rising quickly seem to be the main sources of most market headaches (that, and sellers getting ahead of the market). However, the supply shortage is a much better problem to have, compared to a demand shortage. The current problems do not equate to any meaningful price decline nor an impending foreclosure crisis. Rather, we see all the signs for continued solid home sales growth and commercial growth

In short, it is possible to deduce conclusions incorrectly, or be hypersensitive to small matters. Or, as I said earlier, two months doesn’t make a trend. So what should you do? Have a little more of whatever relaxes you: a couple of beers, a couple of glasses of wine, or in my case, a couple of bowls of Blue Bell. If you’re still concerned, come talk to me in six months if the condition persists.

The Billion-Dollar Industry Threatening Real Estate Transactions – How to Protect Yourself

by Cassandra Majors

Pop Quiz: What industry grew by almost a billion dollars from 2016 to 2017? Hints: You wouldn’t want to invest in it, there are no publicly traded companies participating in it, but it’s still one of the fasting growing industries in the world. Give up? The answer may surprise you: it’s wire fraud, and the scammers behind it are getting better every day and making millions of dollars off vulnerable home buyers, sellers, and Realtors. Read on to find out how to help protect yourselves and your customers from this ever-growing threat.

Here’s how the scam usually works: The criminal will impersonate someone involved in the transaction (a real estate agent, the escrow officer, the lender’s loan officer, etc.) by sending a legitimate-looking email and/or making a direct phone call with phony wiring instructions to the buyer and insisting the money be wired as soon as possible. This is not an obvious “Please help a Nigerian prince wire money to the U.S.” sort of spam email we are all used to getting. These wire fraud emails are often indistinguishable from a genuine email, complete with company logos and graphics, signature blocks, and links to the company website.  Often the emails provide a local phone number to call for verification, and when the buyers call to verify, the professional-sounding scammer answers the call and verifies the false information.

Once the funds are wired to the scammer’s account, the money is quickly withdrawn and the account closed, and there’s little hope of recovery in most cases. Many buyers across the globe have lost hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars to these types of scams, and they have little recourse once their banks have wired out the funds at their request. These scams are so profitable and the technologies that assist them are becoming so sophisticated that more and more fraudsters are joining the effort every day, and the number of daily wire fraud attempts is skyrocketing here in Texas and all over the U.S. as a result.

So how can you protect yourself and your clients from wire fraud? There are several easy ways to help eliminate the most risk of fraud, and Independence Title takes daily measures to keep our customers safe. Here are the top 5 ways you can help protect your funds from scammers:

  1.  The best way to eliminate the risk of wire fraud is by bringing your closing funds in the form of a cashier’s check instead of wiring the funds. We’ll provide you with a statement showing the amount of money to bring for closing as soon as we’ve confirmed your settlement costs, and you’ll have peace of mind knowing you won’t be wiring your money to the wrong account
  2. If you still prefer to send your funds via wire transfer, please call a member of your escrow team for instructions. We will NEVER provide wiring instructions unless you specifically ask for them, so if you receive an unsolicited email or a phone call from Independence Title giving you wiring instructions, you can be sure it IS a wire fraud attempt. Never respond to an email like this, and simply hang up the phone if you get a call. And on that subject:
  3. Never call a phone number from an email—always go the company’s website directly (not from a link in the email) and find the phone number there to call and verify the information. Go to our website and use the easy search bar in the upper right-hand corner to find your escrow officer or closing branch, and if you’re unsure, just call the main number and someone will help you get in touch with the right team: 512-454-4500.
  4. Always check the email address from your title company, real estate agent, or lender to make sure it’s legitimate. Fraudsters are smart enough to create and use an email address that is often so close to the real email address of your Realtor or title company, you may not catch it unless you are paying very close attention, such as changing an “I” to a “1,” adding one extra letter, or changing the email service provider.
  5. Remember that our closing teams will NEVER text, email, or call you insisting that you wire your funds quickly—this is the fraudster’s trademark move. They want you to move quickly before anyone has a chance to realize what’s happening. Often the scammers will send an email or call you very near closing with urgent, last-minute changes. Our wiring instructions will NEVER change once we give them to you, our escrow bank will always be one located here in Texas, and the account name will always be Independence Title.

Independence Title encourages you to take every possible precaution to protect yourself from becoming a victim of fraud. If you close with us and follow the instructions above for safety, you can help protect your funds and your home closing transaction. These attempts now occur almost daily, so be cautious and careful so you’ll never fall victim to one of these scams.

Cassandra Majors has been a market analyst and data guru in the Austin real estate industry for over a decade.

Lumber Prices are Rising! Mark Sprague’s Texas Market Update

By Mark Sprague, Independence Title State Director of Information Capital

The House / Apartment You Look at Today Will Be Gone Tomorrow!
And it will certainly be more expensive. Not only is there not enough resale inventory, rates are increasing and the cost of building is up dramatically.

Lumber prices have risen by roughly 22% year-to-date as a result of newly imposed tariffs and demand. And that’s just lumber. All materials and labor or more expensive and forecasts show a 15 to 30% increase over the next 12 months.  This leads to higher housing prices through increased homebuilder costs.

Lumber prices are the highest they’ve ever been in the United States—let that sink in for a moment. Lumber futures contracts for 1,000 board feet of lumber are trading at $513. For perspective, according to Wood Markets, in the 1980s it was rare for average monthly prices to exceed $200 (it only happened in 14 months that decade); in the 1990s, U.S. prices managed to crack $400 for 14 months that decade; in the 2000s, the housing crisis put downward pressure on lumber prices, which only broke $400 8 months that decade, and dropped under $200 for 11 months.

We’ve told you before: If you’re betting against the U.S. economy without taking note of the strengthening in the US housing market  (which nationally, regionally and locally are not near pre-recession numbers), you’re asking for trouble. Evidence: Lumber values today and projected 12 months out. This week they hit a six-year high.

Source: Calculated Risk

A lot of this is good, old-fashioned supply and demand. U.S. home building is ramping up with Texas leading the way. Russian lumber output is weak. China is gobbling up a hefty chunk of U.S. wood. And Canadian lumber is dramatically more expensive.The cost of money is going up (federal reserve rate are projected to increase 1/2% this year), so yes, buying will be more expensive.  For every 1% increase in interest rates, you lose 12% buying power.

And don’t forget the continued increase in local regulation, driving costs up and causing most metro markets in Texas to be unable to supply near enough homes (we are way below units built per 1,000 than in previous years).So, yes, if you are waiting, it’s going to cost you….a lot.

The Spring Education Menu is Here!-DFW

Spring is here and it’s time for the new Independence Title Education Menu!  We have some exciting new classes and updates for you.

UPDATED! Facebook for Real Estate | 1 HR CE | Course#31968 What is your main goal when using Facebook? Engaging with clients? Marketing listings? Our goal is to help you overcome the challenges that come with Facebook’s recent changes, so you can effectively market your real estate business. In this class, you’ll learn how to engage with clients by using lists and groups. We’ll discuss increasing exposure to certain topics or events by using Facebook Live. Then we’ll leave you with tips and tricks to help you excel in the ever-changing world of Facebook.

UPDATED! Instagram for Real Estate | 1 HR CE | Course # 32730 Due to Instagram’s visual nature, more Realtors are using the social media platform to build their real estate brand. In this advanced class, we will discuss the importance of an Instagram Business Profile. Additionally, we will take a look at varying content and the proper use of hashtags. Lastly, we will examine clever ways to promote your listings and engage with your audience by utilizing unique Instagram features such as Instagram Stories.

UPDATED! Keeping Clients for Life | 1 HR CE | Course #31965 Past clients are a real estate agent’s lifeline to generating a steady stream of repeat business and referrals. Do you know how to keep in touch without becoming a nuisance? Personalization may be the key to staying off your client’s “do not disturb” list. In this class, we’ll share ideas on how to personalize your follow-ups and touches, talk about gathering pertinent data post-closing, and so much more! Consistent application of these interactions will help you keep clients for life.

NEW! Mastering the Open House | 1 HR CE | Course#34035 Most Realtors dread the question, “When are you going to hold an open house on our property?” Sitting at an open house on a weekend; total waste of time, money and energy, right? Not so! We’ll walk you through open house goals, a strategic plan to maximize marketing efforts, and a solid follow-up plan. The open house serves as a prospecting opportunity; it’s a way to fill your pipeline with future business.

NEW! Real Estate Graphic Design with Canva | 1 HR CE | Course# 34143 Have you heard of Canva.com? It’s a free web-based graphic design platform that Realtors can use to create flyers, postcards, newsletters, and even social media graphics. This class will help you get started with the platform. Before you know it, you’ll be creating amazing DIY real estate marketing material!

Realtor Hacks | 1 HR CE | Course#33023 Do you know what a “hack” is? According to dictionary.com, a hack is: “a strategy or technique adopted in order to manage one’s time and daily activities in a more efficient way”.  The term most commonly used is “life hack”.  For example, did you know there is a website that will help you unsubscribe to junk mail? There is also an app that will correct lighting in your listing photos.  We will talk about these cool hacks and more in an effort to help you work smarter, not harder!

NEW! Social Media Advertising for Real Estate | 1 HR CE | Course #34137 Consumers today are looking online for a property they can call home. Therefore, it’s imperative for real estate agents to use social media to market their business and listings. While any Realtor can open a social media account, it’s not always clear how to use social media as a tool to send the right message, to the right audience and at the right time. In this class, we’ll teach Realtors how to effectively market on social media by creating different types of ads.

NEW! Social Media Basics for Real Estate | 1 HR CE | Course #34200 Are you new to the ways of social media? Not really sure how to use Facebook or Instagram to promote your Real Estate business? This class is the perfect way for beginners to get started down the right path. It will cover the benefits of using Facebook and Instagram for marketing your business and walk you through some basic tips and tricks on both platforms.

NEW! Stats in a Flash | 1 HR CE | Course#33237 Does the word “statistics” intimidate you? This class will take the fear out of statistics and will have you creating your own Stats in a Flash! We’ll define common terminology, show you where to locate statistics, teach you how to create your own, and demonstrate when to use statistics in your business. If you want to take your marketing to the next level, or if you just need data to support your negotiations, this class is for you!

If you are interested in any of these classes check out our upcoming classes or contact your Independence Title Business Development Rep!

The Spring Education Menu is Here!-San Antonio

Spring is here and it’s time for the new Independence Title Education Menu!  We have some exciting new classes and updates for you.

UPDATED! Facebook for Real Estate | 1 HR CE | Course#31968 What is your main goal when using Facebook? Engaging with clients? Marketing listings? Our goal is to help you overcome the challenges that come with Facebook’s recent changes, so you can effectively market your real estate business. In this class, you’ll learn how to engage with clients by using lists and groups. We’ll discuss increasing exposure to certain topics or events by using Facebook Live. Then we’ll leave you with tips and tricks to help you excel in the ever-changing world of Facebook.

UPDATED! Instagram for Real Estate | 1 HR CE | Course # 32730 Due to Instagram’s visual nature, more Realtors are using the social media platform to build their real estate brand. In this advanced class, we will discuss the importance of an Instagram Business Profile. Additionally, we will take a look at varying content and the proper use of hashtags. Lastly, we will examine clever ways to promote your listings and engage with your audience by utilizing unique Instagram features such as Instagram Stories.

UPDATED! Keeping Clients for Life | 1 HR CE | Course #31965 Past clients are a real estate agent’s lifeline to generating a steady stream of repeat business and referrals. Do you know how to keep in touch without becoming a nuisance? Personalization may be the key to staying off your client’s “do not disturb” list. In this class, we’ll share ideas on how to personalize your follow-ups and touches, talk about gathering pertinent data post-closing, and so much more! Consistent application of these interactions will help you keep clients for life.

NEW! Mastering the Open House | 1 HR CE | Course#34035 Most Realtors dread the question, “When are you going to hold an open house on our property?” Sitting at an open house on a weekend; total waste of time, money and energy, right? Not so! We’ll walk you through open house goals, a strategic plan to maximize marketing efforts, and a solid follow-up plan. The open house serves as a prospecting opportunity; it’s a way to fill your pipeline with future business.

NEW! Real Estate Graphic Design with Canva | 1 HR CE | Course# 34143 Have you heard of Canva.com? It’s a free web-based graphic design platform that Realtors can use to create flyers, postcards, newsletters, and even social media graphics. This class will help you get started with the platform. Before you know it, you’ll be creating amazing DIY real estate marketing material!

NEW! Social Media Advertising for Real Estate | 1 HR CE | Course #34137 Consumers today are looking online for a property they can call home. Therefore, it’s imperative for real estate agents to use social media to market their business and listings. While any Realtor can open a social media account, it’s not always clear how to use social media as a tool to send the right message, to the right audience and at the right time. In this class, we’ll teach Realtors how to effectively market on social media by creating different types of ads.

NEW! Social Media Basics for Real Estate | 1 HR CE | Course #34200 Are you new to the ways of social media? Not really sure how to use Facebook or Instagram to promote your Real Estate business? This class is the perfect way for beginners to get started down the right path. It will cover the benefits of using Facebook and Instagram for marketing your business and walk you through some basic tips and tricks on both platforms.

NEW!Stats in a Flash | 1 HR CE | Course#33237 Does the word “statistics” intimidate you? This class will take the fear out of statistics and will have you creating your own Stats in a Flash! We’ll define common terminology, show you where to locate statistics, teach you how to create your own, and demonstrate when to use statistics in your business. If you want to take your marketing to the next level, or if you just need data to support your negotiations, this class is for you!

If you are interested in any of these classes check out our upcoming classes or contact your Independence Title Business Development Rep!

The Spring Education Menu is Here!-Austin

Spring is here and it’s time for the new Independence Title Education Menu!  We have some exciting new classes and updates for you.

UPDATED! Facebook for Real Estate | 1 HR CE | Course#31968 What is your main goal when using Facebook? Engaging with clients? Marketing listings? Our goal is to help you overcome the challenges that come with Facebook’s recent changes, so you can effectively market your real estate business. In this class, you’ll learn how to engage with clients by using lists and groups. We’ll discuss increasing exposure to certain topics or events by using Facebook Live. Then we’ll leave you with tips and tricks to help you excel in the ever-changing world of Facebook.

UPDATED! Instagram for Real Estate | 1 HR CE | Course # 32730 Due to Instagram’s visual nature, more Realtors are using the social media platform to build their real estate brand. In this advanced class, we will discuss the importance of an Instagram Business Profile. Additionally, we will take a look at varying content and the proper use of hashtags. Lastly, we will examine clever ways to promote your listings and engage with your audience by utilizing unique Instagram features such as Instagram Stories.

UPDATED! Keeping Clients for Life | 1 HR CE | Course #31965 Past clients are a real estate agent’s lifeline to generating a steady stream of repeat business and referrals. Do you know how to keep in touch without becoming a nuisance? Personalization may be the key to staying off your client’s “do not disturb” list. In this class, we’ll share ideas on how to personalize your follow-ups and touches, talk about gathering pertinent data post-closing, and so much more! Consistent application of these interactions will help you keep clients for life.

NEW! Mastering the Open House | 1 HR CE | Course#34035 Most Realtors dread the question, “When are you going to hold an open house on our property?” Sitting at an open house on a weekend; total waste of time, money and energy, right? Not so! We’ll walk you through open house goals, a strategic plan to maximize marketing efforts, and a solid follow-up plan. The open house serves as a prospecting opportunity; it’s a way to fill your pipeline with future business.

NEW! Real Estate Graphic Design with Canva | 1 HR CE | Course# 34143 Have you heard of Canva.com? It’s a free web-based graphic design platform that Realtors can use to create flyers, postcards, newsletters, and even social media graphics. This class will help you get started with the platform. Before you know it, you’ll be creating amazing DIY real estate marketing material!

NEW! Social Media Advertising for Real Estate | 1 HR CE | Course #34137 Consumers today are looking online for a property they can call home. Therefore, it’s imperative for real estate agents to use social media to market their business and listings. While any Realtor can open a social media account, it’s not always clear how to use social media as a tool to send the right message, to the right audience and at the right time. In this class, we’ll teach Realtors how to effectively market on social media by creating different types of ads.

NEW! Social Media Basics for Real Estate | 1 HR CE | Course #34200 Are you new to the ways of social media? Not really sure how to use Facebook or Instagram to promote your Real Estate business? This class is the perfect way for beginners to get started down the right path. It will cover the benefits of using Facebook and Instagram for marketing your business and walk you through some basic tips and tricks on both platforms.

If you are interested in any of these classes check out our upcoming classes or contact your Independence Title Business Development Rep!

Carbon Monoxide Detectors: Now a City of Austin Requirement

By Cassandra Majors

After I smoked my last cigarette five years ago, I quickly mutated into a twitchy, manic, raging lunatic for the next two weeks. I came up with 100 creative ways to murder most of the people who crossed my path during that time, mostly for minor infractions like taking too long at a stoplight or mispronouncing “New Braunfels.” Desperate to calm down, I went on furious speed-walks around the neighborhood; joggers, dog-walkers and stroller-moms would bolt across the street in terror when they saw me barreling down the sidewalk clenching my fists and chewing great wads of gum so hard that sparks shot out between my teeth. I felt like I could never just relax.

My smug non-smoking friends always liked to say, “I don’t understand why you smokers say that smoking relaxes you. Nicotine is a stimulant!” Yes, dear, nicotine is indeed a stimulant. Carbon monoxide, however, is definitely NOT a stimulant. Carbon monoxide is very, VERY relaxing, so relaxing in fact that if you get enough of it, you’ll relax yourself right to death and not even notice. The City of Austin has come out strongly against this ultimate relaxation recently in their new ordinance requiring carbon monoxide alarms in all residential and commercial buildings that have gas or fuel-burning appliances. What does this mean for us as real estate professionals?

Starting April 1st * in the city limits of Austin, “residential and commercial structures with both sleeping areas (bedrooms) and gas or fuel-burning appliances are required to install and maintain carbon monoxide (CO) alarms. In a dwelling unit, a CO alarm must be installed outside of each separate sleeping area and in the immediate vicinity of each sleeping area” (source: City of Austin).

*Safety tip: Do not use carbon monoxide as part of an April Fool’s Day prank.

Listing a house for sale? This will now come up on the inspection, or if the home needs work that requires a building permit or work on any gas system, appliance, or fixture, so get your carbon monoxide alarms installed before the home goes on the market. Even if there are no gas appliances in the home, you’re still not off the hook, sorry. The ordinance also requires carbon monoxide alarms in any home with an attached garage, which are most of the single-family homes in Austin. On the bright side, many modern smoke alarms are actually combination alarms for both smoke and carbon monoxide, and those will absolutely fulfill the new requirement, so check to see if you might already be covered by the existing smoke alarm.

Building a new home, multifamily structure, or any commercial building with sleeping areas? New buildings require the alarms to get their power from the permanent building wiring with a battery backup, just as many smoke alarms are now wired. For existing structures, just battery-powered detectors are acceptable.

Is your home or listing outside the city limits of Austin? This new ordinance doesn’t apply (check the local codes where the home is), but it’s still a good idea to have one in every home. Carbon monoxide can be fun in small doses like cigarettes, but when it’s leaking in your home, it can really ruin your weekend. All of your weekends forever, actually.

Check out the video below from Austin’s Code Department for everything you need to know about where and how to install the carbon monoxide alarms.

Cassandra Majors has been a market analyst and data guru in the Austin real estate industry for over a decade.

How Many Changes Have You Seen? What You Need to Know About the TREC Contract Changes

If you’ve been a Realtor® for several years, you’ve probably seen a few iterations of the Texas Real Estate Commission (TREC) contract forms. TREC strives to listen to input from license holders and to continually improve the forms that are used for Texas real estate transactions. Improvement usually means change, and change means there are a few things you need to know before you write your next contract.

TREC met on February 12th, 2018, and approved revisions to several current forms and also adopted two new forms. These forms are available for use now on the TREC website and have a mandatory use date of May 15th, 2018. Here’s what you need to know:

  • You must use the Addendum for Reservation of Oil, Gas and Other Minerals if you want to reserve any mineral rights.
    Earnest money needs to be delivered to the escrow agent within 3 days of the contract Effective Date.
  • If the buyer fails to deliver the earnest money within 3 days, the seller may terminate the contract.
    • There are conditions on how this termination can take place, and you can read more about the elements of earnest money receipt, including how TREC considers weekends and holidays as pertains to the 3-day deadline, here.
  • Your buyer now has a defined “Cure Period” to notify the seller if they wish to terminate or waive any objections. Additional time periods can also be added if a revised commitment, survey or exception documents are received.
  • Effective Date is now a defined term throughout the contract. You will now notice this term capitalized through all contract forms so that in case of any legal action, it will be legally recognized as a defined term.
  • The receipt page now has separate areas for the contract and earnest money to be receipted.
  • The escrow agent will need to indicate what time the earnest money is delivered on the earnest money receipt page (this impacts the seller’s right to terminate).
  • And most importantly, there is no longer a need to include your Broker’s fax number on the receipt page!

For a complete review of the contract form changes please review A Summary of Contract Form Revisions.

Click here for a copy of the revised TREC Contract.

Along with these changes, there are also two new forms:

Addendum for Authorizing Hydrostatic Testing: This addendum gives license holders a promulgated form to comply with the requirement in the contract that the seller must authorize any hydrostatic testing in writing. The form also provides a space to indicate who will pay for any damages.

Addendum Concerning Right To Terminate Due To Lender’s Appraisal: This addendum is the long-awaited form that many license holders have requested. The form gives three options for the parties to agree how the contract will proceed if the lender’s appraisal does not meet the lender’s underwriting requirements. Keep in mind that this form can only be used for transactions involving conventional financing.

Does Your Social Media Need A TREC Check Up?


Is it us or do the TREC requirements for posting the IABS and Consumer Protection Notice on social media seem a little confusing?  “So what exactly DOES TREC want from me?  Am I compliant?”  These are questions we are asked often.

We all know TREC is asking that the Information About Brokerage Service and Consumer Protection Notices be accessible on any platform that is used as a business website, right?  Not only do they want you to have both of those notices, they also want it to be in a certain font size!  Did you know that a “business website” doesn’t just mean your real estate website?  It also means social media!  Seems simple enough until you start trying to figure out how to have those two notices front and center on your Instagram feed that is ever changing, or on your Facebook page using the correct font.  It’s one of the top concerns we hear from our agents.

TREC recently put out this article giving more clarification on compliance with social media and the two notices.  We’ve read through it and basically, this is what it is saying:

IF both notices are “readily noticeable” on the first page of your website, you can add a link to that website from the social media account holder profile.  Make sense?  In other words, in your ABOUT ME section of all platforms, if the website link you have listed goes directly to a page that has the links to both forms READILY NOTICEABLE (correct font and all), that works for TREC.  See example below.

Also, aside from addressing rules on providing the two notices, the Texas Real Estate Commission recently released other rules and changes about the way you advertise your business.  Here is the original article:  TREC Advertising Rules

They break it down here in this video.

Of course, you should ALWAYS consult with your Broker and/or TREC for any questions or more clarification.

(That “website” link should go DIRECTLY to a webpage that has both notices readily noticeable on the front page.)

 

The MUD Mystery

There’s one sentence in one section of the contract that always ruffles everyone’s feathers whenever we teach our class Navigating the 1-to-4 Family Contract. The last sentence of section 6 E(3) Statutory Tax District states that the seller must deliver the buyer a statutory tax district notice, i.e. a MUD or WCID notice.  This is not a shocker (it’s typically taken care of by the agents and then again at closing by the title company), but what ruffles the feathers is the part says this notice needs to be signed PRIOR to executing the contract. That certainly isn’t always easy to do!

We are often asked by agents, especially after this class, if we know of a good resource for identifying these taxing districts. There are some of the good old standby options, like Realist and the County Appraisal District websites, but those require looking at the details of a specific property. We wanted to find something a bit more interactive that had broader searching capabilities. We went to work, did some digging, and found a fantastic website through the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s website that will allow you to do just that! It’s not the most immediately intuitive website to navigate, but if you watch this video, you’ll be an expert in no time.

And don’t forget, another great resource will always be your escrow team at Independence Title. Our closers work daily with a tax research company, they can typically answer your tax questions within 24 hours.

It’s a Weird, Weird World of Real Estate Out There

By Cassandra Majors

Texas real estate can be pretty weird. In the rest of the country, for example, the idea of paying a seller a small fee in exchange for giving the potential buyers a window of time in which they can just change their fickle minds and walk away scot-free (the “option period”) sounds insane. Personally, I love this quirky feature of Texas real estate and think it could be applied to other kinds of contracts…like marriages, for instance. “Do you take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband as long as you both shall live, including a 6-month option period for the bargain price of $500 during which you can dissolve the marriage with no legal consequences in case he turns out to be one of those guys who leaves his nail clippings on the carpet?” Why yes, I do!

Even though Texas real estate does have its quirks, I guarantee you we’ve got it pretty good here. To prove my point, please grab your passports and join me on a whirlwind trip around the globe to see how crazy buying and selling property can be in other countries. Once we get back, I think you’ll be even more grateful for good ol’ Texas real estate.

Enter Through the Debt-Free Door
Have you ever heard that painting a home’s front door red will make it seem more welcoming and homey and thus command a better price when you sell it? The jury is out on whether or not this actually works (a study by Zillow actually found that the magical money colors were navy blue and slate gray), but you may notice more red front doors when you’re driving through neighborhoods in Scotland. The Scots aren’t trying to get a better price, though—it’s actually a common practice on the island to celebrate paying off your mortgage by painting your front door red. Who knew? It does seem like a nice way to remind yourself every day when you come home that your house is paid off, and it’s not a bad way to show off to the neighbors. And it could come in handy for real estate, too—when I bought my first house years ago, the sellers revealed three days before closing that they were underwater on their mortgage and couldn’t afford to close. So I spent the next six months living out of a suitcase and crashing on friend’s couches while my lawyer and I fought to turn the deal into a short sale before I finally got to move in. If I had just passed the house the first time and seen the front door wasn’t red, I might have saved myself some trouble and kept driving!

Scatter the Ashes, but Keep the Heat
Here in Texas, renewable energy is growing by leaps and bounds, and you can often assign a portion of your home’s electricity to come from wind power. In Denmark and Sweden, you can similarly enjoy a portion of your home’s warmth in the winter from…corpses. Yes, the local crematoriums are kind enough to lend some of their heat to local residential utility companies when the weather turns frosty. Imagine putting that as a green home feature in a listing description! Waste not, want not! Denmark’s most defining national concept is that of hygge, which roughly translates to “coziness,” or the feeling you get from sitting around a cheery fire with loved ones while drinking a hot cup of coffee and wearing warm fuzzy socks. So next time you’re visiting the Danes and getting hygge with it, just try to enjoy the warmth and forget about where some of that coziness is radiating from.

That’s Not a Sales Price—THIS is a Sales Price!
The land down under has an interesting upside-down real estate feature. Here in the U.S., you might strongly suspect that a seller has padded the sales price for negotiating, but in Australia, it’s actually built in. Instead of listing a house for $300,000, for example, a realtor in Australia might instead list it in a range of $295,000 – $305,000. I find this superior to the American system, if you’ll forgive a little Aussie-envy. Think about it—if you’re listing the house and a potential buyer knows he won’t pay over $300,000 for anything, he may never even see your listing in his own internet searches or in an IDX feed from his realtor with that hard upper limit in the search criteria. But we all know that a $300,000 home could sell for slightly less than asking price, so why do we let Boolean search parameters hide our listings from those buyers? All homes are ultimately listed in a price range whether it says so or not, so I’m with the Down Under on this one.

Also, while most sellers in Australia list with an agent, most buyers don’t have one, probably because the fees are capped by law at 3% of the purchase price no matter what and the listing agents aren’t keen to share the spoils. (And if you were curious, no, I do NOT agree with Australia on this one. I’m a professional real estate analyst with full MLS access, and even I wouldn’t buy a house without a realtor. I’d rather walk into a sword fight with a butter knife.)

At Least You Don’t Have to Worry About the Home Inspection
The last ten years in Texas have seen an amazing appreciation of existing homes, with major metros seeing a whopping 4-5% annual appreciation in the last decade. But if you lived in Japan, you would probably never expect your home to appreciate, as the vast majority of houses lose value after purchase. Why, you ask? Because more often than not, the new buyer will bulldoze the home they just bought and start from scratch. This is why Japan has four times as many architects and twice as many construction workers as the U.S., even though Japan’s population is actually shrinking compared to ours. Half of all homes built in Japan are demolished within 40 years, and 60% of current homes were built after 1980. For this reason, homes in Japan are usually just considered a place to live rather than an investment. Check out this fantastic podcast from Freakonomics to learn more about this weird phenomenon.

Stop! It’s NOT Hammer Time!
Ever heard of those horrible eminent domain cases, where some poor grandmother is forced to sell her 100-year-old family farmhouse to the government so it can build a highway right through her wraparound porch? We’ve seen some of these cases in Texas over the years, but the really bad cases are relatively few and far between; often the homeowners are happy to just take a big check and move on. In China, however, exploding populations and mind-blowing expansion of new buildings and highways have led to a lot of citizens fighting the government to keep their houses. Many have lost their battles, but enough have won or are stuck in years of litigation that the developments have just built up all around the houses while leaving them intact and bizarrely out of place. These homes have come to be known as “nail houses,” like a nail that’s sticking up because it’s refused to be hammered down. The Atlantic has a fantastic slideshow of pictures of these stubborn houses awkwardly trapped in the middle of huge commercial developments, and I love every one of them. What can I say? I always root for the underdog.

And the Bizarro Award for Weirdest Worldwide Real Estate Goes to…
We’ve seen a lot of strange sights on our real estate journey around the world, but I want to end at the country that (for me) is the #1 strangest place on earth for real estate: France!

Do you like having an exclusive listing agreement with your sellers? Well, don’t move to France, because it’s very common for sellers to list their homes with multiple agents, and may the best agent win! Like many countries around the world, France has no centralized MLS of any kind, whereas in America MLS services are pretty much ubiquitous. Having no MLS doesn’t just mean you can’t easily search all listings at once—you also can’t easily find comps or property history when you’re trying to come up with a sales price for your listing or an offer for someone else’s. Agents in France just have to be experts in their local markets and learn all they can from clients and other agents to help buyers and sellers make informed decisions. Won’t that help you feel more grateful next time you’re painstakingly setting up a listing in Matrix?

In fact, the lack of a centralized MLS usually means that in Europe in general, the idea of a “rock star” agent is pretty foreign. Most real estate is handled by small outfits catering to very local markets. Branding yourself, selling yourself, becoming a top producer…these are near-universal goals of most full-time real estate professionals in Texas and the U.S. in general, but in Europe, agents tend to blend in and work quietly. Laurence Demure, a realtor who has worked on both continents, describes this difference in a fascinating article for Inman: “The [European] agent is expected to be like all other agents. It’s almost like the old image of an IBM employee when they all wore the same suit, white shirt and tie. There is no differentiation.” Imagine a Texas realtor trying to work under those conditions! Forget that glitzy billboard on I-35, buddy—you just have to wait until someone wanders into your office and you happen to know the area they want to buy in.

How would you feel if you had to ask permission from your kid to sell your house? Because of French inheritance laws, if you buy a home with your spouse and he or she passes away, you still usually have to share ownership with your children, who can block you from selling or renting out the house. It’s actually not a bad idea, now that I think about it; I bet my parents would be a whole lot nicer to me if we had this law on the books here.

And finally, I’m more than a little disturbed by the French practice of Le Viager. I’m sure you’ve heard of a reverse mortgage, where a bank pays a homeowner in monthly installments for the equity in their homes, slowly taking ownership over the years in exchange for providing monthly income for mostly elderly homeowners. Le Viager works similarly…except it’s SUPER creepy. Instead of a bank paying you for the equity in your house, it’s just a regular person who wants to buy the house that you’re aging in, and they’re willing to put up money for it and then…wait. The buyer usually pays a bigger lump sum to the seller at the beginning, then continues with monthly payments for as long as the seller lives. Only when the seller kicks the bucket does the deed finally transfer to the buyer. So when you enter into one of these arrangements and you want a good deal, are you basically betting on how quickly someone will die and hoping they don’t live too long? Seems kind of morbid to me, France, but hey, different strokes. Personally, I would sleep with one eye open if I were one of those sellers.

Home Sweet Home
Welcome home to Texas! Thank you for joining me on this trip around the world. Now doesn’t that option period seem way less weird? Plus, here your house can appreciate over time without getting ripped apart by bulldozers, there’s no “dead bodies” setting on your thermostat, no one is paying you to wait around for your death, and you can sell your house without first having to beg your millennial kid to move out from in front of his Nintendo 360. As much as I love to travel, I still have to say: God bless Texas!

Cassandra Majors has been a market analyst and data guru in the Austin real estate industry for over a decade.