Monday, March 31, 2014

DECISION: The Alleged Effects of Mold on Human Health

The alleged effects of mold on human health has been addressed by New York’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, on March 27, 2014 in Cornell v. 360 W. 51st St. Realty, LLC.

The facts of the case were that Ms. Cornell resided in an apartment from 1997 to 2003, after which time she vacated the property due to alleged health issues allegedly caused by mold and dampness in her apartment. She claimed to be dizzy, asthmatic and congested and was unable to function or sleep properly while in the apartment.

51st Street Corporation opposed her claim, arguing that Cornell was unable to prove a cause-effect relationship between mold and disease. Relying on a clinical immunologist as an expert, 51st Street Corporation demonstrated that the scientific community generally accepts that mold can cause disease through specific channels; however, none of Cornell’s symptoms can be directly linked to mold exposure.

In dismissing the complaint, the Court held: “Studies that show an association between a damp and moldy indoor environment and the medical conditions that [Plaintiff’s Expert] attributes to Cornell’s exposure to mold…do not establish that the relevant scientific community generally accepts that molds cause these adverse health effects.”

Brokers, keep this case in mind as you work with clients who have fears about the effects of mold on human health when they refuse to enter a property claiming to smell mildew.

As the Court explained, mold exposure is not established by the scientific community to create toxic effects, except for cases of ingestion. It only is shown to cause an immune response in allergic individuals. 

Mortgage Finance Reform Advances in the Senate

The Senate is currently formulating its bipartisan plan to overhaul Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. Chairman Tim Johnson (D-SD) and Ranking Member Mike Crapo (R-ID) have been working together to craft legislation that shifts the mortgage market to the private sector and creates the Federal Mortgage Insurance Corporation (FMIC) that will protect taxpayers from having to bear the costs if another housing bubble bursts in the future. FMIC will be an independent agency that supervises servicers and guarantors and provides insurance on mortgaged-backed securities. It will also create a mortgage insurance fund that funds insurance claims but only after the private sector absorbs the initial risk. The government will remain a guarantor of mortgages as a last resort.

In a news release, Mike Crapo explained, “This agreement moves us closer to ending the five-year status quo and beginning the wind down of Fannie and Freddie while protecting taxpayers with strong private capital, building the components for a stable secondary market and avoiding repeating the mistakes of the past. Government control of Fannie and Freddie with no private capital to protect taxpayers against losses is unacceptable.”

This legislation is only in its early stages, focusing on the necessity of a smooth and efficient transition to private lending and the continuing availability of the affordable 30-year mortgage. Brokers, change is coming to the mortgage market, and it is essential that you are knowledgeable every step of the way to a final bill. This legislation directly affects your occupation and your clients, so keep your eyes open for more advances in legislation.

Click here to read more on the Housing Finance Reform legislation. You may also follow S. 1217’s progress here on govtrack.us.  

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Happiest Job in America? Being a Real Estate Agent.

Around this time in 2013, Forbes reported that CareerBliss' employee-generated reviews determined that being a Real Estate Agent is the happiest career in America. Click here for the article. The results are old, but the underlying reasons are what interested me, not to mention they are still relevant today. Let's find out why being a Real Estate Agent is such a happy job:

The study asked employees to review ten factors that affect their workplace happiness:
  1. Relationship with boss
  2. Relationship with co-workers
  3. Work environment
  4. Job resources
  5. Compensation
  6. Growth opportunities
  7. Company culture
  8. Company reputation
  9. Daily tasks
  10. Control over which tasks to perform each day
Being a Real Estate Agent is not your typical 9-5 cubicle job where your job is to simply finish the work that is handed to you. Every agent knows that they are solely responsible for their success. As a Real Estate Agent, your rewards are proportional to your effort, professionalism, and skill. If you want to just "show up" and coast, you are going to fall flat on your face. On the flip side, if you want to be in control of your career, all of the tools are laid at your feet. 

When a Real Estate Agent joins a brokerage, they are giving away part of their hard earned commissions in exchange for the benefits being a member of a brokerage provides. When you look at the ten factors above, you see ten things which Real Estate Agents want in their careers, and ten things brokerages want to provide to help their agents succeed.

A Real Estate Agent at a major brokerage can check off each of the ten factors:
  1. A professional relationship with their boss who rises and falls with their agent's success.  
  2. A professional relationship with their co-workers who share the same goals and have the same desire to succeed. In addition, all the benefits which accompany having a large network of agents which makes it easier to connect buyers and sellers. Your co-workers are a resource to be utilized and respected. 
  3. A positive work environment which is a product of the other nine items on this list.
  4. Access to MLS or a similar listing service, a strong legal team, professional office space, advertising, brand recognition, and other brokerage specific resources which help you do your job better, faster, and more efficiently. 
  5. Compensation that rewards you for your work - your extra effort finds its way directly into your pocket. 
  6. Unlimited growth opportunity - the only ceiling is your own desire and will succeed. 
  7. A company culture that rewards success and promotes independence. 
  8. Brand recognition and reputation that lends itself to any agent who operates under their brokerage's umbrella.
  9. A work day which is almost never the same as the day before, or the next day. There are always new challenges to tackle and new faces to interact with. 
  10. Nearly completely autonomous control over what to do, when to do it, and how to do it. 
Brokerages - Think about what your agents want and how you can help them succeed. After all, their success is your success.

Real Estate Agents - Think about all the benefits your brokerage provides and make sure you are utilizing each them to their full extent.

Non real estate professionals - How can you incorporate some of the things from this list to make your work (or your employees) more enjoyable and more productive?

As for the unhappiest job in America, I guess CareerBliss forgot to interview Lieb at Law employees. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Smart Home Must Haves

Donald Bell of CNET goes through simple smart home upgrades that are must haves for those techies in the real estate world.

Mr. Bell discusses the best in smart lights, outlets, smoke detectors, thermostats and locks that will change your home and change your life.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Broker Entitled to Implied Commission even without Agreement

The Appellate Court recently decided Harris v. Clancy, a case where the Court ruled that a seller had the burden to prove that a broker had "agreed to forgo a commission" or the Court stated that one would be implied by the Court regardless of the nonexistence of a brokerage agreement.

The Court found support in precedent that held "[a]bsent an agreement not to pay a commission, where a broker has performed as a broker and the seller has accepted the broker's services, an agreement to pay a commission will be implied even in the absence of an agreement regarding a commission ..., and the court will be charged with determining the amount of the commission".

So brokers, while you should always have a brokerage agreement with your client or co-broker to prove how much you are owed, its really your client or co-broker who benefits the most from the agreement, not you. Remember this case the next time that your client or co-broker resists signing your brokerage agreement; then, you may want to share this case with them and say that you are only asking them to sign your agreement to help them out.


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Lieb School Expands to Long Island City

Lieb School now offers free continuing education courses in Queens. The first course will be held on May 2nd in the iconic Citigroup Building in Long Island City. For more information visit www.liebschool.com 

Agency Disclosure
Credits: 3
Instructor: Andrew Lieb, Esq. 

Every broker must send their agents to this continuing education course to learn Agency Disclosure.
This course will answer the maddening questions that are always in the back of every real estate agent’s mind in brokerage:  How do I fill out the form? Who do I work for? How can I get both sides of the deal? Can the Department of State fine me if I mess this up? Why does my broker care so much? Does this affect my commission? How about my license?
You will learn the whole enchilada about agency from disclosure in the presence of another broker to disclosure by electronic means to disclosure at an open house to disclosure when your client / customer refuses to sign the form, and so much more.  You will be familiarized with the applicable statute, the relevant regulation, court cases that decipher your duties and DOS Administrative Decisions that fine violators. This course even includes a skills component where you will learn how to fill out the Agency Disclosure Form in every possible scenario. Finally, you will get it right.  It’s mandatory to practice Agency Disclosure and after taking this course, you will.

Making Home Affordable - New Handbook Available - Version 4.4

To access the new Handbook for MHA, inclusive of HAMP and HAFA, click here.

This Handbook is the rules for banks / servicers to modify mortgages, so pay careful attention to detail and make sure that they comply.